Sometimes a different route is a good idea.
Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) is still a little messed up from the events of the first film, but not so messed up that he skipped becoming a cop; although being tightly-wound and shooting people for no reason is a bad idea. He takes his girlfriend, Maggie (Kari Wuhrer), out to visit his old friend Capt. Esteridge (played by Stephen Hair this time) when his bitch girlfriend insists on stopping for a hitchhiker … also named ‘Jim’ (Jake Busey), then, as in the first film, things go badly….
Like most sequels, this one is little more than a retread of the original. A killer with no motive against all odds finds our hero (and his girlfriend) a second time and convinces the police that Jim is some kind of a threat to them. When Jim dies saving his bitch girlfriend from the killer (whose actual name is ‘Jack’), she becomes the focus of the police’s manhunt … eh … womanhunt. As before Jack is always several steps ahead of Maggie and sets her up to be the fall girl for his crimes, even cutting off his own finger to ‘prove’ that she is a psychopath, which the police, naturally, believe. Ho hum. Jim has lost the innocence that made him such an interesting character in the original film. The experience with John Ryder has left him unhinged and unstable, more so than the usual film cop on the edge. For that matter he is fired from the police before the film gets started properly because he was involved in a ‘bad shoot’. In reality he would probably be up on charges of manslaughter at the very least, but police in movies do not work according to any sort of logic or reason. His character is dangerously paranoid, and it seems unfair somehow when his paranoia is found to be reasonable despite reality.
Maggie is one of those annoying characters that one only finds in films. She is a crop duster and a mechanic and yet is beautiful in the conventional sense. Women as attractive as she is do not end up in careers like this with losers like Jim, not even out in the boondocks. Women like her end up doing modeling work or starring in b-movies, which is exactly what happened to Kari Wuhrer, the person. Anyway, her character goes from annoying bitch to superheroine with no apparent reason behind it, at least Jim had watched the psychopath kill and maim and summarily execute a girl who wanted nothing more than to help him. Maggie goes from victim to perpetrator with ease enough that would only be reasonable if she was as big a psychopath as her stalker, Jack. Incidentally, where did she learn how to drive a semi?
Jack is even more of a confusing cypher than was John Ryder in the previous film. Ryder picked Jim to kill because Jim picked Ryder up. A random crime because Ryder was nuts. Jack claims that he has been waiting for Jim, which makes absolutely no sense unless Jack is a supernatural entity of some sort. The idea that Jack is some malevolent spirit seems too easy, much of the fun of Ryder in the previous film was that he seemed to be personified evil, it was left vague who or what he was, but in this film, credibility is stretched past the breaking point. Jack cannot be a random event in the life of Jim, so that means he is either Ryder back to get Jim or he is the same kind of creature that Ryder was.
The ending is pretty idiotic as well. The finale of small plane versus semi is incredibly stupid as there is really no way that a plane could stop a semi without crashing into it. Eventually, that’s what she does. Excluding the very real possibility that they would both be killed in such an accident (a couple of hundred miles an hour head-on), but neither one is actually killed. Instead Maggie manages to uncouple the rig and ties Jack to it to tear him in half, but that fails because she uses a bag of sand for the pedals (?!). The police then show up to mess things up, but she still manages to ignite spilled gasoline with a shotgun blast. Wow.
The setting is just as starkly beautiful as in the original, but 15 years of development have limited the section of interstate that is truly isolated. Since we start the film with Jim and Maggie, the film lacks the isolation and fear of the original. There is also a lack of the innocence versus corruption theme that played so well since Jim is far from innocent and Maggie is unpleasant. Jake Busey may have impressive teeth, but he is nowhere near the actor that Rutger Hauer is, nor does he have the charisma.