Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Riding the Bullet

Riding the Bullet is King's variation of the classic "hitchhiker picked up by a dead man" story, and it's a pretty good one.  That's largely because he adds in the element that the hitchhiker is on his way to see his mother in the hospital after she's had a stroke.  The character's complicated but sweet feelings for his mother are really what make the story good.

Riding the Bullet is also notable because it was an early e-book release that ended up being incredibly successful and one of those things that had people claiming that print books were out and digital was the way of the future.  Of course, that was 14 years ago now, and print books aren't dying just yet.  For King's part, he was always disappointed that people wanted to talk to him about the success of the e-book but never about the story itself.

But he's always got one cheerleader in his court, and that cheerleader is Mick Garris.  While The Stand and The Shining mini-series were faithful adaptations using King's scripts, and Quicksilver Highway used King's story largely as is with Garris creating the wraparound tale, this is the first time that Garris adapted a King story and fleshed it out a bit himself.

Suddenly, I understand why other people dislike Mick Garris so much.

The two mini-series are great, even if they're not very scary.  Quicksilver Highway has a camp feel to it, and that works really well.  But in this instance Garris is trying really hard to bring the scares, and he fails miserably.  Every single time.  Once again, when he's adapting King's story directly, it's fine.  But everything he added on his own had me cringing.

He sets the story in 1969, which makes enough sense as it couldn't really be set in modern times as the majority of people do not hitchhike anymore, and most of us are unwilling to pick up the few who do.  So you set it in a more innocent and trusting time period, sure.  But Garris seems to set it there just so he can have one of the college age characters say "What's it going to be like when all these rock legends get old?  Lennon, Janis, Hendrix, Jim Morrison.."  All it does is make you roll your eyes really hard.

He also adds in an attempted suicide for our main character.  To a degree that makes sense.  When he's forced to choose who will die, you can see not only the struggle but also his renewed desire to live now.  But it's mostly the execution that comes off all wrong.  He does it because his girlfriend broke up with him, but she only broke up with him as a way to give him a surprise party later.  The tone just feels really odd, and I can't sympathize with Alan because he's overreacting and I can't see why he would care about a girlfriend who plays such a cruel joke on him.

One of the poorest attempts at a scare comes when Alan is walking down the road alone.  He hears a noise in the bushes and gets afraid.  It turns out to be a rabbit, and he relaxes... until a dog comes out and savagely kills it.  It then turns on him, growling and snarling.  We see the dog attack  him, but it's just Alan imagining things.  A semi truck then comes out of nowhere and runs over the dog.  It's just a lot of revulsion rather than a legitimate scare.

That's not the only sequence where we see Alan imagining things either.  He also has another version of himself that appears frequently to talk to him.  It's an interesting alternative to a voice-over to show his thoughts, but it's all a little strange, and the constant "something happens but oh wait he just imagined it" gets really tedious after a while.

If there's anything positive I can say about the film, it's that I enjoyed David Arquette's performance as George Staub.  It's a fairly familiar character for him, but he plays it well.  I do think Garris also does a decent job of showing the bond Alan shares with his mother.  It's just a shame that too much of the rest of the movie makes it hard to appreciate.

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