It had to happen sooner or later.
You hear the stories of bad King adaptations, but usually end up sticking with the films you know and love:The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Shining etc. But when you undertake a task such as this, to review each and every adaptation of Stephen King’s work, you’re bound to come across some that are simply terrible; Riding The Bullet is a prime example.
Here’s a little bit of history on the story though: it was first published in 2000, and marked King’s first venture into e-book territory (it was only available to download online, as opposed to an actual physical copy). In 2002 though, it was included in the collection Everything’s Eventual. This was actually the first Stephen King book I ever read; I remember buying it simply because it contained the story 1408, which (at the time) was being released in the cinema. I read the entire book within 2 days, and have been a fan since. Riding The Bullet wasn’t the best story in the book, but it didnt deserve the mess of a movie that was spawned from it.
Set in 1969, Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) is a young artist, studying at the University of Maine. He becomes obsessed with death, and believing he is losing his girlfriend, Jessica (Erika Christensen), he tries to commit suicide on his birthday. His friends surprise him and he cuts himself sending him to the hospital. He eventually recovers and decides to go with them to a John Lennon concert. Before leaving he receives news that his mother, Jean (Barbara Hershey), is in the hospital because of a stroke and is near death. Alan decides to hitchhike to reach the hospital before his only relative dies. On his way there, he has multiple strange encounters with the living and dead.
It all starts out well enough; the story is set within the first 10 minutes (although we are only aware of the time period when he receives tickets to see John Lennon), but as soon as he starts the journey to the hospital it all goes horribly wrong. Jackson gives a great performance and can’t really be faulted, it’s just that a film about trying to get to a specific place goes nowhere for an hour. It’s only until he gets a ride with George Staub (David Arquette) that the first ten minutes connect back to the plot. It works in the book because there’s no time constraint on how long the reader spends on reading it, but in a film, where there’s a specific timescale on how long there is to tell the story, it’s unbelievably unnecessary.
Director Mick Garris (a familiar name to King adaptations; he directed The Stand, Sleepwalkers, King’s own version of The Shining, Desperation, and most recently Bag of Bones) utilizes an unusual style for this film, trying to get inside Parker’s mind and his thoughts. At first, it works and results in a few occasions of successfully misleading the viewer in terms of what’s going on. But when it’s used in almost every scenario, it becomes tiresome, predictable and irritating.
Riding The Bullet is essentially a half hour TV episode dragged out to a run time that it doesn’t deserve. As I said, the performance of Jackson is admirable, as is Arquette’s, but the material simply wasn’t meant for this medium, and it shows. Definitely not one of King’s finer cinematic ventures.