Riding the Bullet (2004)



I was fortunate enough to have been invited to the Los Angeles premier of the new Mick Garris film, Riding the Bullet, based on a story by Stephen King. It was a star-studded event with many legendary directors on hand such as Tobe Hooper, Frank Darabont, Roger Corman, and Don Coscarelli to name a few. Cast members David Arquette and Cliff Robertson also attended. After they strolled up and down the red carpet, it was on to the screening. Mick Garris addressed the audience and acknowledged the cast and crew in attendance giving out many thanks. He also said something that caught me off guard: HE said that what we were about to see wasn’t really a horror film. I didn’t know what to think about that since everything I had seen about the film looked like a straight-up horror film to me. I guess I would soon see for myself as it was time for the film to begin.

Set in the late 1960s on Halloween, Riding the Bullet is the story of a New England college student who learns that his mother has been hospitalized after a stroke. He must hitchhike across the state over the course of one night to be with her. Along the way he confronts his past, his future, his demons and fears - and a terrifying personification of
death.

The film doesn’t waste any time getting right down to business as it has a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time. Like several King adaptations, Riding the Bullet seems to have a hard time trying to decide what it wants to be: a horror film, a drama, a love story, a comedy. It has elements of all the above, which made it feel uneven to me. However, with all of its negatives I couldn’t help but enjoy the positives. For every scene I disliked there was one I liked.

One thing that got to be a bit much was the over usage of possible choices the character makes. Several times in the film you are shown a scene two to three different ways, and that can get old real fast. It works in a film like An American Werewolf in London in the famous dream within a dream sequence when you’re not expecting it, but over and over again it gets to be a bit annoying.

I think the biggest surprise of the film is the ending where the film completely switches gears and gets all sappy and sentimental. Suddenly it becomes Stand By Me in the last five minutes. As out of place as it was, I hate to admit that I loved the ending. It gave the film a sense of purpose it was lacking trying to pass itself off as a horror film that was really something else all along.

The acting was good all around, and I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s leading man, Jonathan Jackson as Alan Parker. He did a really impressive job carrying the film, which he absolutely had to do or the whole thing would have been a catastrophe.

Mick Garris has recently become the King of King venturing on his long road with the author by helming the King-penned Sleepwalkers. That was over a decade ago and the last time Garris directed a feature film. Since then he has been working in television and mostly on Stephen King adapted mini-series such as The Stand and The Shining; currently he is working on Desperation. This is where I think the problem with Riding the Bullet may lay. I admittedly have not read the original King story so have no idea what Garris was working from, but with that being said, I know how hard it can be to bring a King novel to the screen. This is why the mini-series format has been used so often because of the inability to effectively fit it all into a ninety-minute film. Riding the Bullet felt like a mini-series that tried to cram everything into one episode. It just didn’t play like a feature film. I kept waiting for the commercials with those annoying mini previews for the next fifteen-minute segment to pop up. Gladly they didn’t, but I shouldn’t have felt like they may.

Riding the Bullet is a film that will likely appeal to more non-horror fans, which I think is the majority of the people who like the Stephen King television adaptations. However, I say give this film a chance. I would like to see more on the big screen from Mick Garris in the future.

2 ½ out of 5

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