Stephen King's Riding the Bullet

on October 15, 2004 by Michael Tunison
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It might have been any unlucky pedestrian struck by the van on that road in Maine back in 1999, but because the victim was Stephen King, the emotional trauma of the near-fatal accident bubbled out in the form of a 30-page story and hit e-book. Now, the nightmarish accident-turned-Internet literary trailblazer takes screen shape as "Riding the Bullet"--a hit-or-miss blend of schlocky B-horror jolts and bleak meditations on fragile human mortality.

Jonathan Jackson ("Tuck Everlasting") stars as the latest in a long line of King substitutes--in this case, a death-obsessed young artist obliged to hitchhike home from college when his mother (Barbara Hershey from "Lantana") suffers a stroke in psychedelic 1969. Rides with a series of ghastly characters and other encounters on lonely, moonlit stretches of highway suggest the hero's either supernaturally haunted, losing his marbles, or maybe just puffing a little too much Mother Nature between lifts? This being a King adaptation, all of the above swirl together in an unfiltered stream-of-consciousness exploration of fear, morality, '60s pop culture and whatever else happened to have been on his mind at the time.

Frequent King TV adapter Mick Garris ("The Stand" and "The Shining" miniseries) does Stephen King for Stephen King fans, protecting the author's trademark blend of idiosyncratic horror, crude humor and earnest grappling with life's big issues. Garris' writing-directing-producing efforts here fill out King's story in a jarringly uneven way--a true collision of the nostalgic "Stand By Me" dramatist King and the in-your-face "Creepshow" scaremeister King. The performances follow suit, ranging in tone from Hershey's characteristically grounded single mom-and-son scenes to "Scream" series star David Arquette's jittery work as a demonic hot-rodder who's only too happy to transport our protagonist down the highway to hell--over-the-top acting even by the loose standards of broad horror. Yet another reason to think twice before thumbing a ride, kids. Starring Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, Erika Christensen, Barbara Hershey and Cliff Robertson. Directed and written by Mick Garris. Produced by Mick Garris, David Lancaster, Greg Malcolm, Joel T. Smith, T. Smith and Vicki Sotheran. A Motion Picture Corporation of America release. Horror. Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and some nudity. Running time: 98 min

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