Riding the Bullet

Of all of the recent movie adaptation of Stephen King novels or novellas (Dreamcatcher, Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, and television versions of Carrie and more), Riding the Bullet is surely the worst. As an author, King moved away from horror and into other vastly different genres of fiction. Riding the Bullet is a mind-numbingly dreary meditation on life and death over one long trip back home. It's the 60s, and Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Tuck Everlasting) is in college. Alan has an unhealthy fascination with all things morbid. In art class, while everybody else draws a nude model, he draws the same model with a demonic, skeletal figure hovering over her. His girlfriend Jessica (Erika Christensen, The Perfect Score, The Banger Sisters) just broke up with him when she finds him attempting to commit suicide. Then, he discovers his mother Jean (Barbara Hershey, Lantana, Drowning on Dry Land) suffered a heart attack.

Jean is lying in a coma in a hospital hours away. The only way for Alan to get to her is to hitchhike his way back home. It's a long way's home, and the walking and various drivers give Alan a lot of time to think about the experiences he had with Jean. Alan's father died when he was a young boy, so he and his mother were very close growing up. He harbors a lot of guilt and frustration. Jean never adequately explained the death of his father. He also feels guilty about spending time away in college from his mother. He is also suffering from strange visions of a menacing man trying to kill him. Each person that picks him up seems to be mentally off-balance, but he is tired and needs the rides towards home.

It's not clear what adapter/director Mick Garris (who did television versions of The Stand and The Shining) was trying to accomplish. Apparently, he was trying to show the audience what was going through Alan's head. This does not work. One thing that Garris does far too often is the use of Alan's imagination. For example, he will receive a phone call, and on screen it shows Jessica wanting to make up with him. Then, he jolts out of his fantasy, and it's actually his neighbor informing him that his mother is in the hospital. Doing this a few times is okay. Garris does this so often that it becomes annoying. The bulk of the film revolves around a mysterious driver (David Arquette, Never Die Alone, A Foreign Affair) and an old amusement park. As a child, Alan wanted to ride a roller coaster called "The Bullet." He and Jean waited in line a really long time, only to have Alan's imagination of what might happen get the better of him. Now, as Alan slowly makes his way home, Alan must conquer his fear of what may happen to his mother and, at the same time, get over some issues in his childhood, and make some extremely difficult decisions. Most people will be trying extremely hard to stay awake.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, drug use, and sensuality.

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