Riding the Bullet

First published as an eBook in March of 2000, “Bullet” has sold over 500,000 copies, making it the best selling e-Book of all time. Although I was one of those people, I didn’t read the story until after I received the screenplay, even though it was published in book form in March 2002, as part of “Everything’s Eventual,” King’s first collection of short stories in almost a decade, “Bullet” tells the story of Alan Parker, a young man who fights off a number of unspeakable horrors, both real and imagined, as he tries to hitchhike the 120 miles from the University of Maine in Orono to the hospital in Lewiston he mother has been taken to after suffering a heart attack.

At 41 pages in length, “Bullet” is certainly not the shortest King story ever to be adapted to a full-length screenplay. “The Lawnmower Man” at nine pages will probably forever hold that dubious distinction, beating out “Children of the Corn” at 28 pages, “Trucks,” which King himself adapted from his 15 page story, and “The Mangler,” the second shortest King adaptation at 11 pages. What do these adaptations have in commonr They were all lower budget films where the original King story was mostly forgotten, allowing the filmmakers to impose their own will on the audience. This is true of “Riding The Bullet” as well.

Writer/director Mick Garris has pulled the story out of its late 1990s setting, setting it at the tail end of the 1960s counterculture movement. Alan is still a student at the University of Maine in Orono, but is now an art major instead of a philosophy student. The phone call from mis mother’s neighbor Mrs. McCurdy, which opened the original story, does not come until twenty-two pages into the screenplay. The movie now opens with Alan being dumped by his girlfriend Jessica on his birthday. Despondent in the dorm room he shares with two stoner buddies, Alan attempts suicide by slitting his wrists in the bathtub, only to have Jess and his friends walk in on him as part of an intended surprise party, the breakup intended as a ruse to get Alan alone while they finished planning the get-together. Later, at the hospital, Jess presents him with his present: two tickets to a John Lennon in concert that weekend. In Toronto. Which he will not be able to attend once he gets the call from Mrs. McCurdy. Although his roommate Hector offers to drive him to Lewiston, Alan has Hector and fellow roomie Artie go to Toronto as to not waste the tickets, while he will hitch it to the hospital.

Enter Mick Garris interjection number two, appropriately called Alan II. No matter what happens to Alan on his short journey, Garris pads the script by having Alan’s doppelganger act as a Greek chorus, to verbally externalize what isn’t even an internal dialogue in King’s story. When Alan is picked up by Ferris, a hippie in a VW van (Garris addition #3), Alan II is there in the back seat to make snarky comments, although Alan II is nowhere to be found when Ferris turns out to be a wig wearing Vietnam soldier who has recently gone AWOL because he could no longer stand being called a baby killer. When Alan is later picked up by a kindly old farmer in a rickety Dodge, Alan II is once again cracking wise in the backseat, although Alan II disappears altogether when Alan is chased by drunken rednecks (Garris addition #4), attacked by a large beast of a dog with blood splattered teeth (Garris addition #5) and almost molested by slick cat driving a new Lincoln Continental (Garris addition #6). At this point in the screenplay, page sixty-two, when Alan stumbles across the grave of one George Staub, we have seen about ten pages of scenes from King’s original story.

Finally, in this last act, does Garris allow King’s story to be a part of the adaptation, although the previously non-existent doppelganger is still in there making cracks, including a few awkward incidents when Alan II is commenting on someone Alan is thinking, which we hear in voiceover. Alan is picked up by a stranger, who forces (for lack of a better word) Alan to rethink his life and the choices of his recent past.

I should mention that it took me a month to read the screenplay, so little interest did it keep in me to continue. With a group of 1960s songs that easily could be the missing Return of the Secaucus Seven soundtrack and some gratuitous orgy scenes, this is a Cinemax premiere waiting to happen. Garris never solves King’s main problem of incorporating the subject of the title into the story. The Bullet is an amusement park rollercoaster that the young Alan Parker was too afraid to ride, which is eluded to a couple times but never specifically dealt with. Maybe it’s one of Hitchcock’s maguffins, the gimmick no mystery should be without. If so, it’s a pretty weak device, and certainly not one that an entire film should hang on.

I give this screenplay a C-, with the hopes that Garris can become a better director than he ever has been before to save the mess he’s written.

Shooting is scheduled to begin in the Los Angeles area in early April.

The Scorecard
Director: Mick Garris
Producers: Mick Garris, Brad Krevoy, Joel Smith
Screenwriters: Mick Garris, based on the short shory by Stephen King
Production Company: Motion Picture Corporation of America

Adaptation by Mick Garris, based on the short shory by Stephen King

Screenplay Dated: January 4, 2003

Rating: C-