"Riding the Bullet," the horror-drama based on the wildly popular eBook by Stephen King, is now available on DVD, but for the few who have heard of this movie, is it worth the ride?
Jonathan Jackson stars as a struggling artist named Alan Parker who has set out from the sanctuary of his university to visit his mom who has just suffered a major stroke. Having recently contemplated suicide, he is a sad state of affairs and he manages to hallucinate quite a bit of things, from talking crows to an alternate version of himself. Oh, and he also sees the Grim Reaper from time to time. While two of his friends head to a concert in Toronto, he proves that he has no other friends by relying on his hitchhiking skills to get to his mother's hospital. Unfortunately for him, the road he takes is full of dead and twisted people, and ultimately the Grim Reaper himself, in the form of dead redneck David Arquette (and he isn't even acting!), picks him up and forces him to make the ultimate choice. Considering that the Grim Reaper has only one purpose, you can guess what that choice is...
"Riding the Bullet" is interesting enough, with a few low-budget scares and an compelling premise. Jackson isn't terribly impressive in the lead, but then again neither are any of the other actors. The movie is creepier than anything else, as things continue to get stranger and stranger. Like many Stephen King books, the movie acts like a drama with lots of dead things thrown in to scare people. Some may like this approach and others may not; to me, it's a flip of the coin.
For what must understandably be a low budget, director Mick Garris, who has done several Stephen King movies from the television adaptation of "The Shining" to the downright miserable theatrical release "Sleepwalkers," has made the most of it. The movie has a nice blend of ghosts, nightmares and just random strange things, all of which prove to be moderately entertaining. On the other hand, he sometimes goes overboard with his tricks, especially when he shows flash-forwards of what Alan thinks will happen next. The convention seems like something more out of a sitcom than a horror movie. Other minor flaws tend to build up as well, culminating in a good reason why "Riding the Bullet" was never released wide.
The most problematic elements come from the plot, however. In fact, I don't know what the plot was. Alan is traveling down a dark and deserted road to get to his mother's hospital, but what is never explained is why he sees the things he does, why the Grim Reaper is after him, and what significance does the Bullet rollercoaster have? You can just shrug your shoulders and forget about the questions, but I want to know why I should care about some suicidal young punk who talks to himself and sees all kinds of crazy things. Maybe the crazy things are true, but why is the Grim Reaper after him? And what does riding the Bullet have anything to do with anything, other than some forced metaphor that King undoubtedly explained further in his book.
In the end, "Riding the Bullet" is a mildly entertaining horror piece that, compared to many of King's theatrical adaptations, is much more viewable than some. Nevertheless, the horror is never explained; the movie is basically about some crazy guy who sees dead people. And that's not very exciting.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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