Riding the Bullet

C
October 13, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Stephen King’s career has always been about spooking, rather than just goosing, the audience, which is why Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet, an adaptation of his popular e-book, falls short of its source. In 1969, Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson), an art student at the University of Maine, is hitchhiking to the hospital where his mother (Barbara Hershey) lies in recovery — or maybe not — from a stroke. As the prospect of her mortality collides with his paranoia, the film gooses us every five minutes or so with another freakazoid fantasy slingshot from the depths of Alan’s imagination. He has visions of a spectre who’s like a decaying Death in The Seventh Seal; of his mother turning over in bed with no face; of a flesh-tearing coyote and a crow that caws, ”What the f— are you lookin’ at?” Alan must learn to transcend his fears, but after the sixth or seventh false alarm (not to mention the third or fourth creepy driver who picks him up on the road), we’re well ahead of him in not lending his demons much credence.

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