I’ve always been fascinated by the Mick Garris/Stephen King collaborations. Two of them (“Sleepwalkers” and “The Stand”) have been above average and one (“The Shining”) has been well… um… uhh… interesting? Okay, that last one didn’t quite work as well as it should have, nor did it escape from the shadow of Kubrick. But it doesn’t matter if I liked it or not, the concept of doing a faithful version was still a noble idea. The point I’m trying to make is that the two men “click” and Garris is one of the few people able to faithfully reproduce what’s in King’s head onto the screen.
So here we have another Garris adaption, this time of King’s 30-page E-novel “Riding The Bullet”.
We begin by meeting Allan Parker, who is coasting through college. He’s a somber kid who over thinks everything, his brain never shutting up for two minutes. Garris shows us this inner monologue using a “second” Allan. AKA: The Inner Allan or the Smartass Allan. This technique is only partially successful, Allan #2 tends to state the rather obvious at times and towards the end starts to lose his purpose. However, it does work well overall and allows Garris to be as faithful as possible to King’s style of narrative. It’s also funny as hell to watch. Allan #2 can be a real Don Rickles when he wants to be.
After a particularly bad day and even worse birthday party, Allan receives a call that his mother just had a heart attack. Not exactly having much to do except mope in his dorm and now worry about his mother, he decides to hitchhike home from College so can go see his mom in the hospital. This is a hundred or so mile trip, maybe a little more than an hour by car and a hell of a lot longer by thumb. This part plays really well. Garris manages to build quite a dreamlike atmosphere about the whole experience of being on lonely roads after dusk. I won’t ruin the surprises, but it’s safe to say that it’s one hell of a night.
Garris wrote the screenplay himself and adds one significant improvement over the original short: changing the date of the story from 2001 to 1969. You didn’t quite notice it before, but when you think about it; nobody in his right mind hitchhikes anymore lest they want to wind up in a bathtub full of ice cubes with their kidneys removed or worse. Parker, who would have been an anachronism in 2001, fits perfectly in 1969.
NOTE: One of the really subtle 60’s jokes in the movie is that Allan misses out on a John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band concert to go see his mom. If you’ve ever heard John Lennon singing with Yoko (just listen to The Wedding Album) you’ll understand why I personally would rather meet the boogeyman in a dark basement TWICE than hear Yoko Ono sing.
The movie trips up a few times, mostly towards the end when Parker’s mental meanderings go into overdrive one too many times and rob some scenes of their tension. Garris also took the “Riding The Bullet” part of the story a little too literally, which wasn’t necessary. It worked better as a metaphor. In fact, all supernatural elements could have been removed with very little consequence since this is a drama at heart. Lastly, the epilogue doesn’t work. It’s lifted almost verbatim from the short story, but what worked as a written piece really doesn’t translate well onto the screen. Kudos to Garris for trying, but I think it should have been a DVD extra. It’s very sweet and beautifully scripted, but it doesn’t fit in with everything else.
That said, Jonathan Jackson is excellent as Parker and Garris does the nearly impossible and makes David Arquette look menacing. It’s hard to imagine until you see it, but Arquette does the “evil shitkicker” thing perfect. It’s not until the makeup effects butt in that his role is muted somewhat.
So what we’re left with is King and Garris pontificating about mothers and sons, and the loyalty between them when there have been hard times and hard feelings along with the good. The scares act as a reward for those who pay attention to the serious side of the film.
So did I like it? Oh yeah. Flaws and all it works pretty well. I can’t wait to watch it with my own mama.