NBC didn’t make this movie revival/backdoor pilot available in advance, and on that score its instincts were right. Val Kilmer was a last-minute substitute as the voice of KITT the talking car, and David Hasselhoff has a nostalgic cameo as the original driver, but after that the two hours mostly amount to watching two people that once dated drive around together in a conspicuously product-placed Ford Mustang. And yes, that’s just about as much fun as it sounds.
Part of the problem is that gee-whiz auto technology (GPS, computer systems) has made the old KITT look a lot like your average Mercedes. So the producers (who include director Doug Liman, as well as the movie’s director, Steve Shill, and writer Dave Andron) up the ante. This KITT can not only repel bullets, change colors and tap into computer data, but it regularly drives itself, goes 200 miles an hour and, thanks to solar technology, gets 167 miles a gallon.
Clearly this is sci-fi, because if Ford could make a car like that, the U.S. economy would be far better off.
“Knight Rider” does try to establish at the outset that it’s not your father’s version, opening with a threesome and what appears to be the aftermath of a lesbian tryst — both gratuitous, as it turns out. What’s clear is that the scientist responsible for the car (Bruce Davison) is presumed dead, his Stanford prof daughter Sarah (Deanna Russo) is being chased by bad guys that want her knowledege, and enlisting the help of ex-Army ranger Mike Tracer (Justin Bruening), Sarah’s ex, is on KITT’s to-do list.
Both Bruening and Russo come from daytime soaps, and as thrown together the performances reflect it. Kilmer, meanwhile, voices KITT as a kind of humorless Mr. Spock, saying “I do not kid” and speaking in a Hal-9000 monotone. Sydney Tamila Poitier is also on hand as a helpful FBI agent, but mostly it’s a cat-and-mouse game designed to establish a template for the show and, not incidentally, sell Mustangs. (One ad offered that “Knight Rider” was being “brought to you by the star of the show, the Ford Mustang,” which is overkill even for crass sponsorship tie-ins.)
After effectively sprucing up “Battlestar Galactica” on Sci-Fi Channel and stumbling with “Bionic Woman,” NBC is perhaps to be forgiven for exploring how much equity remains in another vintage title (albeit one that wasn’t that good in the first place); unfortunately, even at 200 miles an hour the times appear to have passed the concept by, and making “Knight Rider” road-worthy for further adventures will require more than just a tune-up.