Throwback Thursday: Riding The Bullet (2004)

“The Bullet is constant.”

Released in 2004, Stephen King’s Riding The Bullet is a generic thriller that tries desperately to be more than it is. The film has flashes of brilliance that are spread too far apart by long sequences of awkward interactions, failed attempts at art house-styled scenes, and mundane moments. It was directed and adapted by Mick Garris and starred Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, Barbara Hershey, Matt Frewer, Erika Christensen, and Nicky Katt.

In the film, Jackson portays Alan Parker, an art student who gets into an argument with his girlfriend, tries to commit suicide, and then ends up hitchhiking home to see his dying mother. While hitchhiking, Alan meets a number of unique characters, may or may not have a few hallucinations, gets chased by murderous rednecks, and eventually rides shotgun with a phantom who gives him a choice: your life or your mother’s life.

Garris was already familiar with adapting and directing King’s work for both the big and small screen. He directed the 1992 film adaptation of King’s Sleepwalkers and also directed and/or wrote/produced a number of television shows and mini-series based on King’s work including The Stand (1994), Quicksilver Highway (1997) and The Shining (1997). He also worked on shows like Amazing Stories (1985) and She-Wolf Of London (1990), so his bizarre direction of Bullet has me a bit perplexed.

The film just can’t seem to find its rhythm. It throws in bizarre sequences where Alan has a conversation with his conscious, a literal second Alan that pops up throughout the film, that become increasingly more annoying with each interaction. It has a lot of misplaced or just plain dumb jump scares as well.

The film’s acting is pretty bad as well. Jackson isn’t a bad actor. He just cannot carry this film for some reason. Matt Frewer’s brief appearance feels forced and is poorly executed. Erika Christensen never really gets to show off her acting chops. Cliff Robertson’s role as an extremely creepy, elderly fellow that picks up Alan is awkward. Perhaps confusing everyone with bizarre characters was Garris’ intention. If so, he nailed it. If he was doing anything else, he failed miserably.

Not all of the performances were bad. Nicky Katt shines as a draft dodger who picks up Alan on his way to see his mother. Barbara Hershey is also quite excellent as Alan’s mother. The real star here is David Arquette, who plays against type as George Staub, a fifties-styled greaser who gives Alan the last ride to the hospital. The kicker? Staub is dead and is in town to take a soul with him to the afterlife. He uses fear, humor, and rage to manipulate Alan and he does a fine job of it in this film.

It’s a shame that this film is such a dud. It has a solid cast, an experienced director, and source material from one of horror’s living legends. It ultimately doesn’t translate well to the screen, however, and makes this one of my least favorite Stephen King adaptations.

Did you enjoy Riding The Bullet? let me know in the comments section. As always, thanks for reading.