Riding the Bullet

Year: 2004
Production Co: Motion Picture Corporation of America
Director: Mick Garris
Producer: Mick Garris
Writer: Mick Garris/Stephen King
Cast: David Arquette, Cliff Robertson, Barbara Hershey, Erika Christensen, Matt Frewer
Longtime King adapter Garris has made a good-looking film but suffers as most Stephen King adaptations do for two reasons. The first is that in focusing on the action (because by their nature films can't focus on the character's points of view) a lot of it comes off as slightly silly, like the device of Alan having an invisible double that advises him like a disembodied Jiminy Cricket.

The other reasons is the same many King-inspired films suffer from. Trying to make a 90 minute movie out of it means a whole lot of stuff has to be flung about to fill the running time that moves too far away from the kernel of King's idea.

In this case, it takes the idea that Staub is a sort of archangel sheperding people to the next world and makes it more like The Shining, where Alan's receptive to the horrible visions and strange happenings that plague him along the highway and Staub is just one of them.

Receiving word that his mother's in hospital after a stroke, hippy-era college student Alan decides to hitch hike straight up to Lewiston to see her. He gets a few rides from assorted weirdos and sees a lot of nasty things that make him questions his sanity, but it's not until he comes across the stereotypical misty roadside cemetery that things turn for the worse and the story kicks into the gear you're waiting for.

After seeing Staub's grave, Alan gets into the next car that comes along, driven by Staub himself. He offers Alan a choice; either he or his mother must die, and it's up to Alan to choose who it's going to be.

There are a lot of themes about ageing, dying, loving and when it's our turn to move on ('riding the bullet' - going on a roller coaster that scared Alan too much as a kid - is an analogy for dying). But the themes are just shoehorned into the action and plot, not seeming to say too much, and I think the screenwriter was searching for more depth than King intended. I get the feeling the latter just wanted a simple tale about a haunted highway.

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