Imagination Connoisseur, Pedro Ferreira, shares part of his critical review of KNIGHT RIDER 2010 and whether or not it lives up to the Knight Rider ethos of the earlier, 1980s TV show, this Made-for-TV movie may be more relevant today than it was when it was released in 1994.  

Read his review to learn more.

KNIGHT RIDER 2010 (1994)

Review by Pedro Ferreira

I sometimes feel there is snobbery in looking back at the past and seeing how something made years ago could be relevant today. After all the past rarely predicts the future so it must be outdated right? I don’t generally think that way although I know I’m in the minority. Having said that what possible relevance could a forgotten part of the Knight Rider franchise have today?

The original KNIGHT RIDER starred David Hasselhoff and aired on NBC in the 1980s.

I remember when I first watched 1991’s Knight Rider 2000 how disappointed I was with the complete lack of Pontiac and its dark future. It was a betrayal to me; it felt like everything Michael Knight had done in the original 80s TV series had been for nothing.

Over time and a number of times re-watching of KR 2000 has made me re-evaluate the film and I now think it’s quite underrated. The same might not be said of 1994’s Knight Rider 2010 which up until recently I refused to watch as its place in fandom is almost non-existent. Needless to say its premiere was met with little enthusiasm.

What we got was no Hoff, no William Daniels KITT, no Turbo Boost and a script produced by Rob Cohen who’s an okay director depending on what sympathy you can find. But don’t worry guys; this film has a Mad Max style future, a plot involving smuggling Mexicans and a monster truck! Yeah you can’t forget the monster truck!

Plus it has Brion James playing a robotic humanoid like he did in Blade Runner except completely against type and (rather refreshingly) at the complete opposite of the personality spectrum. As you can see none of this inspired confidence at the time in viewers hoping for some Pontiac chasing action led by Mitch Buchannon.

Where KR 2010 fits in the “Knight Rider Universe”

To give you an idea of Knight Rider 2010’s place in history two spin-offs Team Knight Rider (1997-1998) but more specifically the 2008 series Knight Rider (2008-2009) are so lambasted, to this day any news today of a reboot is immediately met with caution especially with the later spin-off’s reputation.

In comparison, people don’t even remember KR 2010 enough to hate it. That’s what we’re dealing with here folks!

Its origins are interesting and require a look back at the television strategies Universal was utilising at the time. KR 2010 was supposed to act as a pilot for a possible TV series as part of Universal’s Action Pack.

For those unaware, the Action Pack was a US syndicated two hour block of action entertainment consisting of TV movies and later TV shows produced by Universal (MCA TV). It lasted from 1994 to 2001. It was an attempt to either revive or create new properties through popular genre entertainment in the hope they could be turned into full television series. Basically, the TV movies were trial runs to gauge interest from viewers and investors.

MCA started with groups of TV movies among others based off Midnight Run and Smokey and the Bandit with obviously re-casted characters. Surely people had enough of Bandit by this point? Anyway unsurprisingly these weren’t a success.

However, slightly later two new properties faired better. One, based on a novel series by William Shatner called TekWar got made into a full series written, directed and starring Shatner himself. The second, a more modern take on the Hercules mythology did terrifically well which led to a full series called Hercules: The Legendary Journeys which of course in turn led to the equally successful Xena: Warrior Princess. I guess Hercules had to start somewhere and the initial TV movies were actually pretty good so that was a win.

A point to note is that KR 2010 features Hudson Leick who a year later became famous among genre fans for playing Callisto in Xena.

Going back to the Midnight Run revival, four TV movies were originally supposed to air back in 1994 produced by director Rob Cohen. The producer/director was just coming off the back of the very successful biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) and was seen as a safe pair of hands. This was before Cohen became known for the dubious quality of his films, a sort of Michael Bay of stunt movies.

Cohen got three Midnight Run TV movies made but couldn’t get a fourth done as lead star Christopher McDonald had committed to a feature film. As a replacement, Cohen took on reviving the Knight Rider franchise with direction by Sam Pillsbury from a script by John Leekley, the latter of which began with a script that more closely followed the original TV series. More on that soon.

Now, keep in mind if Glen Larson himself couldn’t reboot Knight Rider successfully, Cohen’s version would have to be flippin Turbo Boost Ski Super Pursuit Mode excellence to regain people’s trust in the franchise. And it doesn’t take the processing power of KITT to figure out it wasn’t. KR 2010 is indeed its own thing for better or worse as we will see…

A future that’s not so futuristic

Set in the post-apocalyptic future of 2010 (I know the whole future presented here is inaccurate but that date still makes me feel old) civilization has now moved out of cities like LA. Everyone now lives in zones, both rich and poor. Most of the poor travel the empty roads trying to make do while dreaming of living in the utopia of the new city that lies protected underneath a massive dome.

Michael Beach and Richard Joseph Paul starred in the TV Movie, KNIGHT RIDER 2010 (1994).

Jake McQueen (Richard Joseph Paul) has made a living illegally transporting immigrants to the city until his foster brother Marshall Will McQueen (Michael Beach) captures him. Getting a job working for a computer design company called the Chrysalis Company, Jake finds himself hunted by its corrupt head Jared (Brion James) for body organs. His only hope is Hannah Tyrie (Hudson Leick), an old flame who designs video games as well as a couple of friends who all want to take Jared down…

I am going to reveal whole plot spoilers so you have been warned.

The cast is comprised of a mixture of fairly known/unknown actors although they all do a reasonable job considering the material. Richard Joseph Paul is actually not bad as the selfish rogue who begins to see more to life than making a profit but while the script gives him some smart, witty lines Paul is no David Hasselhoff. Leick in the role of Hannah equally makes a likeable, smart character come to life. The chemistry between her and Paul isn’t as developed as it should be due to the running time of the movie but sometimes it works well.

Rounding out the characters Beach does what he can with his Marshall role and brings a good camaraderie between him and Paul which is important as they’re supposed to be brothers. Beach is often fighting the uphill struggle of being that guy in TV and film who’s playing an authority figure that has to make up excuses for every illegal thing the hero does.

Speaking of heroes, Nicky Katt plays Johnny, a wannabe hero who has a fascination with old guitars (his legend grows apparently) while Don McManus’ Dean is responsible for providing all the souped up vehicles although doesn’t mind selling out Jake if a big pay out is on the cards. As I said generally the cast is quite good here although the real star of KR 2010 is certainly Brion James as Jared.

Hudson Leick stars in KNIGHT RIDER 2010 as Hannah Tyrie, and old flame and video game designer with a past. Just what you want in a dystopian re-boot of an 80s action TV series!

At first seen as disease stricken and incapacitated Jared soon reveals himself to be almost 100% robotic. In trying to tie himself to cyberspace he’s lost mobility everywhere in his body. Every ounce of humanity gone. When he asks Hannah to kiss him on the cheek he shivers with pleasure as though that’s the only area of his body he can feel anything in. He uses Hannah to get to Jake so he can steal his organs as he sees a stronger man in Jake and therefore a more viable specimen to continue his charade of appearing human.

It’s a completely different take on playing an android by Brion going from the hired hitman with a low IQ of Blade Runner to the intelligent but completely unhinged scientist he plays here. He lies back in his chair and speaks as though he’s suffered a stroke. James’ voice is of course different as well, it really isn’t what you’re expecting from him and it’s great to see this range in the actor. Jared is ultimately a tragic character as is Mark Pellegrino’s Robert Lee who comes across as a bully one minute but is helpless to deny his boss Jared parts of his own body.

To his credit writer John Leekley is great at writing these characters but at the expense of spending time exploring the world he’s created. The script is pretty unambitious with Jared’s ultimate goal of stealing Jake’s body more a personal one than something that has far reaching consequences for the entire world.

Why re-boot KNIGHT RIDER?

It does beg the question why out of all the properties Rob Cohen could of took on why another reboot of Knight Rider and why in this way? What drove (no pun intended) people away from Knight Rider 2010 was its complete lack of resemblance to the source material.

At a glance you might think it’s Knight Rider in name only, that they made a film and then slapped the KR name on it afterwards. You could be right and I thought it was until I did research. Remember where I said KR 2010 was originally more in line with the TV series? An original draft of the script had Leick’s character called Kat. This was changed at the behest of the studio who were worried audiences might rightly come to the conclusion she was supposed to be KITT so as a result this movie has no ties to the TV series at all.

What does become apparent by the end credits (if you get that far) is that apart from the idea of having a computer program installed into a car as an interface there isn’t anything at all to tie it to the original 80s series. You can’t even say it’s one man making a difference since Jake ends up having to rope in all his buddies to stop Jared.

The direction by Sam Pillsbury is competent if not inspiring. Within a television movie budget it’s probably the best one could do at the time. An overriding theme of KR 2010 is nostalgia.

From Jake and Hannah’s past romance to Johnny’s dislike of electronic music compared to guitar music to Jake and Will’s reminiscing of growing up together the movie carries this idea of wishing things were like the old days. Jake’s indifference to computers shows a lack of wanting to embrace future technology.

The film definitely takes a “it’s not as good as it used to be” approach which is both snobbish but also a valid point when you consider the outcry for audiences today wanting something as good as they used to watch. The car that Jake ultimately uses by the end of the movie is a custom built Ford Mustang. Forget the car jumping or super speeds built into the original 80s car, the only thing this car can do is shoot at other cars. That’s it.

Ah, but then we get the monster truck driven by Johnny and then everything is almost okay again. It pretty much destroys anything it comes across and the stunts make the most of showing how powerful it is. It certainly breathes life into the movie whenever it shows up. With all the super cool vehicles on display thanks to Jake’s friend Dean as well as Rob Cohen’s love of fast cars it started to dawn on me was Knight Rider 2010 influential or indirectly responsible for the 2001 movie The Fast and the Furious?

It sounds like a stretch as before this Cohen had produced the Midnight Run TV movies which also had car chasing but KR 2010 edges it with having a fairly young cast taking on both the law and bad guys in cool sports cars. The only thing missing is the illegal street racing but apart from that there are a number of similarities between both movies.

KR 2010’s more relevant today than when it was originally made

Going back to what I said at the beginning of this article in reflection, KR 2010 is surprisingly more relevant now than back in 1994 for mainly two reasons (I have already mentioned how the theme nostalgia the movie carries seems relevant today).

One is for its technological aspects. As I said it borrows its setting from Mad Max but combines that with a dystopian vision of computers chipping away at us until there is nothing left that makes us human. With the airing of Channel 4’s sci-fi thriller, Kiss Me First, we have its fake tie-in product the AzanaBand, a device that hooks around your neck like a collar, stimulating pleasure and pain while playing video games.

The AzanaBand turned out to be fake (in this crazy tech future we live in it sure fooled me) but seeing the response to the fake ad on YouTube was quite worrying. People wanted this. In KR 2010 the AzanaBand itself is a headset that transfers your consciousness to cyberspace. It’s been designed by Jared and Hannah to perhaps one day allow the total transference of the human soul to what we more commonly now call ‘the Internet’. The film however can’t settle on whether advances into cybernetics and transferring one’s consciousness into cyberspace is right or wrong.

Jared himself is a cautionary tale of losing one’s soul to cyberspace but through Hannah’s eventual transferral into her crystal PRISM it seems to be an exciting path of possibilities. Either way the positive reaction to the fake AzanaBand means it’s only a matter of time before such a device is made for real. Let us hope we are the ones to have control over it and responsibly.

The second point is its views on immigration having some resemblance to what is going on today in America. In KR 2010’s future of Jake smuggling Mexicans into the city we today have Donald Trump asking for a wall to be built around American borders to prevent Mexicans from entering.

KR 2010 doesn’t have a wall around its rich city, instead it has a dome. The film very much emphasizes how Mexican’s dream about entering the city, it is a haven of opportunity. People that have lived there on the other hand see it as having sold themselves out to their non-technological roots. Living a life outside the dome is a pure life if a poor one. I do doubt Trump will be successful in one day building a complete wall but to see an approximation of that on screen is nevertheless scary.

Just to be clear in no way am I defending Knight Rider 2010 as being a good TV movie. It has many problems, the main being it should never have been called ‘Knight Rider’ in the first place.

But as it stands by itself it remains an interesting film about the possibilities yet limits of humanity and technology. The film also proves we need not be dependent in relating current films of today with current social issues to seek relevance in our lives as past movies often can do that as well, sometimes by accident.