Here we have a movie adaptation by Mick Garris of Stephen King’s novella Riding the Bullet, written in 2000. I happen to think that this was an interesting story however, it did not get rave reviews as it was given two and a half stars by IMDb and only one and a half by Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I think that the lack of success with it’s limited theatrical release may have been more of a casting issue than a content issue. I happen to believe that any King movie adaptation deserves top quality A-List actors or the B-List actors that really should be A-List but for some reason just aren’t recognized as such.
So, here is what happens:
It’s 1969. Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) is a young and talented artist going to school at the University of Maine. But, recently he has become fixated and obsessed with death, the macabre and things of the gruesome morbid nature. His art instructor in his college course even says something after Alan turns a beautiful young lady posing for a nude portrait into some sort of terrified creature that resembles a woman dripping with decaying flesh.
He is also feeling on the outs with his girlfriend, Jessica (played by Erika Christensen). So much so that he feels that they are on the verge of breaking up.
Feeling exceptionally low on his birthday, he contemplates slitting his wrists while taking a bath. As he has the razor blade on his skin and he’s working up the courage to slice, his girlfriend barges in with all his friends, a birthday cake in her hands, all screaming “Surprise!” (Yeah, okay, first of all, I can appreciate you all wanting to throw me a party but, the party isn’t here in my bathroom. How rude to barge in on someone, backed by practically everyone they know, when they are in the tub. And second, don’t you think when he got home would have been the more appropriate time…like when he walked in the door…like normal people?)
So, this “surprise” startles his so badly that he actually does cut his wrist and has to be taken away to the hospital…on his birthday. After he gets better, his friends think that a concert might cheer him up and since John Lennon is coming to town, they convince him to go with them to the show.
While they are getting ready to leave Alan receives word that his mother, his last living relative, has suffered a stroke and is in the hospital and near death. Wanting to see his mother before she passes away, he decides to forego the concert and hitchhike the over one-hundred-mile trek to get to the hospital, hopefully before she dies. (I don’t know why he didn’t just ask a friend to drive him. Or at least to borrow a car. I mean, what kind of jerko friend is going to be like “Oh? Your mother is dying? Well, good luck with that, I’m gonna go see Lennon and get trashed. See ya!”)
So, off he goes.
Hitchhiking. (Which is just so stupid to do, I mean even back in the day, were they not making horror movies? I know my own father used to hitchhike to and from college on visits home for the holidays in the 60s. Is this not just ludicrous? And you want to know why? Here’s why…)
While he thumbs for rides, he runs into some of the weirdest people. He gets a ride from an old man that cannot keep his hands off of his own groin area. He makes it seems like he’s suffering from “something”. By the way was itching and groaning, it could be a number of things…none of which Alan wants to be near. So, he asks the man to let him out in the town they happen to come up on.
At some point, he is meandering through a graveyard in the town and is reading the headstones. One says George Staub (David Arquette). He thinks nothing of it and gets back to the road and puts his thumb in the air.
Soon, another car picks him up. (I promise you, this movie makes it seem like if you hitchhike you are guaranteed a ride.) This guy is just “off” in a way. Staub starts talking crazy, in such a way that once again, Alan wants out of the car.
Staub says no, that he wouldn’t get picked up again for miles and that it’s not safe. He starts acting even weirder when he begins driving super-fast and scaring Alan, who is now stuck with this maniac. George talking about a roller coaster at a local theme park called The Bullet. While talking about this ride, Alan flashes back to when he and his mother went. They waited in line and as their turn came up Alan chickened out. George somehow knows this and teases Alan about it.
After some ranting, (as the creepy people in movies always seem to do), he tells Alan that he must choose…either Alan dies or his mother. After much pressure and fear, Alan chooses his mother to die, rationalizing it that she is already ill and old and he has way more life left to live than she does.
However, his mother ends up living and they get three more years together. Alan, now in his forties, is strolling through the theme park he and his mother used to visit, reliving old memories. He is approached by a man in a car. The stranger, who looks a lot like George Staub, offers Alan a ride. But, he refuses and moves along.
Now, keep in mind that, this being a King story, there’s a lot of little things that I just plumb didn’t mention. They are way better explained in the movie.
I happen to think that while David Arquette tried to play a creepy villain, it comes off as forced, over the top and more like a creepy teenager. I’m not sure if this is what’s intended as I have not yet read the novella itself. But Arquette was really kind of a turn off on this movie. I found myself rolling my eyes at his character a lot.
I do think the movie was well done for the seeming small budget. It only grossed about $135,00 at the box office which is a major flop. Still, I didn’t find myself struggling to make it through the movie, struggling to hear the dialogue or struggling to see what was on screen.
I believe, with a better cast, this movie could have been something good. But I don’t think there were many others at the time of inception that would agree with me. However, I could recommend this movie to fans of King or any hitchhiker flicks. It’s not like it was horrible.