REVIEW: Knight Rider (2008) TV movie

I love it when I’m wrong and something turns out much better than I expect. The early promotional material for NBC’s latest attempt to revive the Knight Rider franchise did not blow me away. I did not think the Ford Mustang version of KITT looked nearly as cool as the Pontiac Trans Am. Plus, I disliked Will Arnett as his voice.

Knight Rider is a two-hour sequel movie to the original series. It is intended as a pilot of sorts for a new series, which NBC has not yet decided to produce. My reservations about the Mustang replacing the Trans Am faded away soon enough, as the new KITT makes an early appearance when the home of his designer, Charles Graiman (Bruce Davison), is robbed at gunpoint. I was pretty much sold on Knight Rider by the end of the opening credits, which feature more scenes of KITT and an updated version of the classic theme song.

It turns out the thieves are after Graiman’s hard drives so they can access Prometheus, a Pentagon project also designed by Graiman and capable of starting full-scale war. KITT escapes the break-in and tears off to Stanford University to warn Graiman’s daughter, Sarah (Deanna Russo). Since she is the only person that can break through her father’s access codes, she becomes an instant target for the “bad guys.”

And that’s probably where Knight Rider feels most like a typical 1980s series. The bad guys here are just that, one-dimensional caricatures that come close each time one is on screen to looking right into the camera and telling us, “Yeah, I’m the bad guy.”

I, for one, enjoyed the easy-to-hate villains of the 1980s, so I am not really complaining here. While I think this approach works to stir the nostalgic feelings necessary to re-launch Knight Rider, if the show is picked up as an ongoing series, then the writers will likely need to make adversaries and plots that are more complicated in order to meet the expectations of modern audiences. Hey, if they are writing for children of the 1980s like me, then I am all for “bad guys” to root against, though.

KITT rescues Sarah just as the bad guys catch up with her and whisks her away to find Mike Traceur (Justin Bruening), Sarah’s childhood friend, later boyfriend, and now ex-boyfriend. Graiman told KITT that Mike would be Sarah’s protector in such a scenario. Traceur has his own problems, as he is nearly $100,000 in debt to a loan shark.

In the world of the 21st century version of Knight Rider, every vehicle appears to be a Ford (the show’s sponsor, as noted in an early commercial: “NBC’s Knight Rider is brought to you by the star of the show, the Ford Mustang”), though a quick line does mention that the original KITT was a Trans Am.

Since we are in 1980s mode, I’ll tell you that the new version of KITT is awesome. The sleek, black Mustang has many updated features that are reminiscent of the original. The special effects, including scenes of KITT repelling bullets and morphing into disguise, are top-notch for a television movie.

As I told you a couple weeks ago, Val Kilmer replaced Arnett as the voice of KITT not long before yesterday’s airdate. This unplanned, last-minute change may have been a blessing in disguise for Knight Rider. The promos of Arnett talking as KITT sounded like he was doing a bad imitation of original voice William Daniels. Kilmer brings a whole new take on KITT’s voice and makes it his own rather than a poor copy.

After an exciting first half, the second half of Knight Rider unfortunately throttles down. Davison turns in an uninteresting performance as Graiman, while Susan Gibney as Mike’s mother, Jennifer, proves to be equally uninspired. Knight Rider also suffers from having four endings, which contributes to the overall slowness of the second half of the movie.

Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives for the new Knight Rider, which does exactly what it should by evoking the feeling of the original without being beholden to it. Stars Russo and Bruening prove more than capable enough to carry the movie, which establishes, for the first time since the 1980s, that Knight Rider can be a viable, modern franchise in the right hands. Hopefully, Knight Rider will indeed get its series and continue along, with some tweaks, at the same quality established here.

Story: 7 (out of 10)
Performances: 8
Visual Style: 10
Effects: 10
Music: 8
Overall: 9