Review: Knight Rider

Wheely good?

In the US: Sunday 17th February, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

The road of TV show revivals is littered with failures. The Invaders crashed and burned; Mission: Impossible found it impossible to get the ratings; Captain Scarlet wasn’t indestructible after all.

They’re tricky things to pull off for one thing. How do you create a new show that embodies the spirit of the original, without being so utterly derivative that there’s nothing new or interesting yet without changing so much of the show’s concept that it p*sses off all the fans of the original?

If you want proof of the problem, look at Knight Rider. Numerous people have tried to remake it, even though it only lasted four seasons in the first place. There was Knight Rider 2000 (okay), Knight Rider 2010 (abysmal, despite Hudson Leick being in it), and Team Knight Rider (sub-abysmal). David Hasselhoff has been trying to get a movie made of it. And now we have a back-door pilot for a new series called simply Knight Rider.

So what ingredients do we have this time from the original? Cheesiness? Check. A talking smart-arse indestructible black car? Check. A pretty ex-soap opera actor with minimal talent pretending to be an ex special forces soldier? Check. 

And what’s new? A Ford Mustang, Transformers, Val Kilmer, Baywatch tributes, lesbians, and a budget. Oh yes, and a Ford Mustang. Did I mention there’s a Ford Mustang? Apparently, there’s a Ford Mustang.

This two-hour movie event, based on the iconic 1980’s hit television series, stars Justin Bruening ("All My Children"), Deanna Russo ("The Young and the Restless"), Sydney Tamiia Poitier ("Veronica Mars," "Grindhouse") and Bruce Davison ("Breach," "Close To Home"). In addition, David Hasselhoff (NBC’s "America’s Got Talent") — who starred in the popular lead role as Michael Knight for four seasons during the original series’ run — returns as the same character during a special guest-star appearance.

As the original story resumes, the new KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) is absolutely the coolest car ever created: its supercomputer capable of hacking almost any system; its weapons systems efficient; and its body — thanks to its creator’s work and nanotechnology — is capable of actually shifting shape and color. Plus, its artificial intelligence makes it the ideal good cop partner: logical, precise and possessing infinite knowledge. It is the ultimate car — and someone will be willing to do anything to obtain it.

The three cars featured in the series include the KITT Hero — a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR that is playing the part of the everyday Hero car with 540 horsepower; the KITT Attack — a super high-speed version of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR Hero car that transforms into Attack mode with the help of air-ride technology and specialized body parts — and a KITT Remote, which is a driverless Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR version of the Hero vehicle.

Sarah Graiman is a 24-year old Ph.D candidate at Stanford University, following in her genius father Charles’ (Davison) footsteps. But when men attempt to abduct her, Sarah receives a mysterious call from KITT warning her that he’s a creation of Charles, who also invented the first KITT 25 years ago — and that her father is in serious danger.

Sarah and KITT track down her best friend from childhood, Mike Tracer (Bruening), a 23-year-old ex-Army Ranger, whom Sarah hasn’t seen since he left home at 18. Having served in Iraq, Mike is now jaded and lost and initially resistant. Eventually he agrees to help Sarah and the two set out to discover who’s behind the attempt to procure KITT and find Charles. Along the way, Carrie Rivai (Poitier) plays the agile yet tough FBI agent who has a long-standing friendship with Charles and Sarah. Due to those ties, she is brought into the mix to help in the search.

Credits: Dave Bartis ("Heist") and Doug Liman ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith") serve as executive producers. David Andron is supervising producer and writer. Steve Shill ("Dexter" "The Tudors"), also a co-producer, directs the two-hour movie from Universal Media Studios and Dutch Oven Productions. 

Is it any good?
Compared to how bad it could have been, it’s a masterpiece of modern television. In more absolute terms, it lacks a little something but isn’t that bad.

Normally, in these revivals, all the original characters are killed off in the first few minutes, every piece of continuity gets trampled on and great big liberties are taken with logic, etc. This movie traverses a path that takes it just as close as it’s possible to get to all of these horrors but backs off at the last minute. 

Could Michael Knight have had a son? Maybe. Could KITT have been built by one man? Maybe. Could he have rustled up an even better version in his own home? Erm…. Maybe.

By the time you’ve finished watching, there’ll be a great big list of maybes but no definitive nos.

But moving on to what’s new rather than what’s revived, we do have a version of the original updated for modern times. We have Michael Traceur (not Poseur?), an ex-Army Ranger who’s slobbing around with underwear models in Las Vegas. Two at a time, mind, because as much as Michael Knight was a serial stud for the 80s, the modern FHM-reading teenage stud-wannabe the movie’s partially targeted at knows that to be a real man you need two women. Simultaneously.

He meets up with his childhood sweetheart after her father, KITT’s creator, is killed. She’s the new Bonnie, but can act.

There’s an FBI agent investigating the killing. She’s new. She lives on the beach and each morning, takes long luxurious showers in front of the camera in her bikini. Then she issues veiled threats to unclad women she picked up the night before about what she’ll do if they nick anything. She’s gay, you know.

And, of course, there’s the new KITT. He’s voiced by Val Kilmer after six nights without sleep, no coffee and having just finished reading "Highlights of 19th Century Croquet" to himself. New KITT may be able to project amusing pictures onto his screen and amusingly ask Mike if he is "a homosexual", but he does it with the charm of HAL9000 rather than a slightly camp Bostonian.

But other than the somewhat cookie cutter bad guys (headed by an English guy, of course) and equally cookie cutter good guys, it’s not too bad. If you regard the original Knight Rider as the epitome of Reaganite idealogy, with tough guy loner stomping out the bad guys using the power of marvellous indestructible technology, then this version is the Doug Liman-ed version for the 21st century, post-Bush era. KITT’s not always indestructible; Mike Traceur doesn’t have an ideology to fight for, only a "why not and where’s the cash? attitude; even the theme tune has been Bourned again.

Naturally, the coolest part of the movie is the new KITT, and you have to admit the CGI is really very good. While 80s Knight Rider was limited by the technology and budget available at the time, 2008 Knight Rider is free to speed up the action realistically so it really does look like the car’s doing 200mph. 

With Liman’s Bourne hat still on, the show also aims to have slightly – but only slightly – greater realism with the technology. While old KITT could hack into almost everything and make all sorts of odd things happen with his ‘scanner’, Liman wants to make us well aware that we’re being watched constantly by all sorts of video cameras, that we’re trackable through our mobile phones and there’s this lovely Internet thing now that you can access from almost anywhere. Of course, the show also wants us to believe in a car that can withstand direct hits from vans and survive as well morph into different shapes and colours. No Turbo Boost, but better computer graphics. It’s a trade off I guess.

As much as I love the fact that NBC chose to go with a tele-pic as a pilot, rather than a standard 40 minute episode, there was a definite feeling the plot was being squeezed beyond its natural lifespan during its third act as KITT drove this way. Then that. Then this way again. Then that. It could have easily survived a 20 minute cut.

As a tele movie, I think it works, even with a minor cameo by the Hoff as the world’s twitchiest former action hero. But the obvious set up for a sequel TV series was just a bit too cheesy, a bit too United Colours of Benetton, and a bit too daft to survive in this day and age.

But as I said, not as bad as it could have been, it’s kind of fun (more fun if you happen to be a teenage boy, I suspect) and it’s a genuine sequel rather than a complete brand cash-in.

Here’s the coolest YouTube clipette I could find, although it doesn’t have the Val Kilmer voice (it has Will Arnett’s instead):

And for completeness’s sake, here’s a less cool but still entertaining one with Val Kilmer’s voice:


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.