Wednesday, 20 February 2008

KNIGHT RIDER (TVM, 2008)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Writer: Dave Andron (based on characters created by Glen A. Larson)
Director: Steve Shill

Cast: Justin Bruening (Mike Traceur), Deanna Russo (Sarah Graiman), Bruce Davison (Charles Graiman), Sydney Tamiia Poitier (FBI Agent Carrie Rivai), Val Kimer (KITT, voice), Wayne Kasserman (Dylan Fass), Susan Gibney (Jennifer), David Hasselhoff (Michael Knight), Greg Ellis (Welther), Jack Yang (Cross), Jonathan Chase (Kevin), Chris Mulkey (Sheriff Ramsey), Assaf Cohen (Amir), Kevin Dunigan (Smoke), Meggan Anderson (Hot Girl) & Kevin Christy (Belle)

An artificially-intelligent car protects its creator's daughter from a group of men who want secret data on a high-tech defence project...

The current vogue for revisiting 80s icons (following Rocky, Transformers, Rambo and Indiana Jones) continues on TV -- with a fresh spin on childhood favourite Knight Rider ('82-'86). Justin Bruening steps into David Hasselhoff's shoes (but not his tight jeans), and Val Kilmer replaces William Daniels as talking car KITT.

Dave Andron pens the script to this "backdoor pilot" for a possible series, hoping to reinvigorate the concept for newcomers, whilst paying deference to the grown-up kids who loved the 80s series – and are probably the ones actually excited about seeing KITT ride again.

Knight Rider confidently gets down to business, by introducing a fresh spread of characters and relationships, whilst giving audiences a look at the brand new KITT within minutes. It hits the ground running and admirably provides more than just a dry rehash of the original series' first episode. This is a definite sequel to the classic 80s show (ignoring '91s Knight Rider 2000) and, despite relying on you believing there was an unmentioned co-creator of the first KITT who went into hiding, it doesn't trample over childhood memories.

In fact, I had a modest amount of fun watching this. The basic plot finds a gang of tech-savvy goons, led by an Englishman called Welther (Greg Ellis), trying to get their hands on top-secret data for a satellite defence system codenamed "Prometheus". The project was developed by silver-haired genius Charles Graiman (Bruce Davison), who also co-created KITT 25 years ago and has just completed a Ford Mustang model – the Knight Industries Three Thousand – for some unexplained reason. It's a hobbie, I guess.

After Welther's team accidentally frighten Graiman to death with a heart-attack at his home, KITT springs to life and carries out its programming to protect Charles' daughter – 24-year-old university lecturer Sarah (Deanna Russo). It all boils down to a frantic cross-country chase, with KITT later enlisting the help of Sarah's old flame -- former Army Ranger Mike Traceur (Bruening), who's currently in Las Vegas trying to pay-off a $90,000 gambling debt, after heavies threaten his geeky housemate Dylan (Wayne Kasserman).

With a property like Knight Rider, you don't expect high art – and you certainly don’t get it. The show realizes its car is the real star, so there are copious glossy shots of KITT burning up desert highways, screeching through multi-storey car parks, and skidding around a university campus. Hollywood actor Val Kilmer lends his smooth vocals to KITT (replacing Will Arnett at the eleventh hour, over a dispute with GMC), and he's surprisingly polished and amusing.

The Ford Mustang itself lacks the futuristic feel of the original Trans-Ams (which still looks cool decades later, if you ask me), but it brings ample musculature instead. It also looks better driving around in full motion than you'd expect from still photographs, while the developments in TV production and special effects ensures KITT has never looked more intimidating and plausible.

That said, did we really need slow-motion tracking shots of CGI bullets crumpling on the car's exterior? I was also a little alarmed to find the new car loses all of its high-tech capabilities (including bullet-proofing) if KITT itself is turned off. That's quite a step backwards in design, if you ask me! But, of course, it handily makes KITT less indestructible – something that often undermined tension in the 80s show.

The human stars are less interesting, but not disastrously so. Bruce Davison can play clich├ęd geniuses in his sleep, Deanna Russo was pleasant enough as Sarah, but Greg Ellis's villain was quite limp (mainly because of the script). But of course, all eyes will be on Hasselhoff replacement Bruening – and the lantern-jawed all-American jock is disappointing. He has the looks and a few nifty moves, but there's no sign of a blossoming friendship with KITT here, and his character is kept on the fringes of the story for ages.

But these things take time. I certainly wasn't gnawing my hand off whenever Bruening was on-screen, and I'm sure he'll develop a rapport with his talking car – if the show gets picked up. And I sort of hope it does. The production get the key ingredients right (KITT is cool and effectively upgraded – it even changes colour/body-shape now!), the action sequences are competent, Kilmer's voice is perfect for KITT, and there's even a fun cameo for David Hasselhoff at the end – with the promise of recurring guest appearances to please old fans.

Sure, pretty much everyone is blandly-written, Sydney Tamiia Poitier's lesbian FBI Agent is horribly marginalized, Bruening lacks the magnetism of Hasselhoff, and the storyline doesn't really stretch to 80-minutes (and that's watching without adverts), but at the end... I was interested in seeing where they go from here.

The only thing that genuinely frustrated me was the music; particularly because the icy-cool Knight Rider theme tune has been totally bastardized by overlaid guitars. It's an attempt to modernize a tune that instead sucks its soul away, leaving you straining to recognize it after the opening few bars. Most of the fight scenes are also cut to similar overblown music – turning a few actions scenes into cheesy, dumb nonsense.

Overall, if you approach this remembering the original series wasn't exactly Shakespeare, with the expectations of a 10-year-old looking for boo-hiss baddies, a cool super-car and some watchable action – 2008's Knight Rider generally hits the spot. For grown-up fans of the 80s show, this is clearly an improvement on the likes of Team Knight Rider (shudder) and shows enough promise to have you curious what the next episode could bring...


17 February 2008
NBC, 80 minutes