‘Knight Rider’: The pilot can’t drive itself

Justinbruening_knightrider Let’s be honest: The idea of a Knight Rider sequel is usually followed by an eye-roll. Just look at the failed Bionic Woman reboot, saved solely by Battlestar Galactica actor Katee Sackhoff. Knight Rider actually has a worse pedigree (witness the TV movies and Team Knight Rider) and, like Galactica, has been the subject of a tug-of-war. With Galactica, it was the vision of Richard Hatch versus what evolved into the current series. The Knight Rider sequel was, by many accounts, rushed into production to head off a competing big-screen version.

That said, Galactica became one of the best series on television, and embraced Hatch (who played the original Apollo) as one part of its excellent ensemble cast.

We open with two power-company workers approaching a nice house in the middle of the night. The man at the door thinks this is a bit odd, but I once called Chicago Water during a flooding emergency and they showed up a week later, also at night. These helpful chaps turn out to be rather more evil, though, and manhandle the owner of the house into a fatal heart attack. What’s a fake power company employee to do? Well, these two start searching for hard drives belonging to the owner — Charles Graiman.

They end at a garage, where we see pieces of the Knight Industries Two Thousand, plus the sleek black Mustang we know will be the next KITT. Said Mustang records the face of the more British bad dude (the other is an Asian surfer) and speeds away.

We next meet Charles’ daughter Sarah, a young professor at Stanford; Mike Traceur (the NBC public and press sites spell it “Tracer,” by the way, which is cooler), a slacker ex-Army Ranger who owes bad peeps a lot of cash; and Carrie Rivai, played by the super-hot Sydney Tamaiia Poitier, a lesbian FBI agent. Seriously, we get to ogle Poitier under a beach shower, for which I’ve already written a letter of thanks to NBC.

KITT picks up Sarah first, conventiently saving her from British Bad Dude and his multi-ethnic terrorists: Evil Eurotrash, Geeky White Boy, Badass Black Guy and Surfer Asian. With Charles dead, they need Sarah to decrypt his hard drive. KITT tells us he’s not allowed to kill anyone, and also reveals that the latest “most advanced AI ever” cannot feel emotions. Contrast that with the original show’s KARR (evil and angry) and KITT (friendly and loyal) — and remember, that earlier incarnation is canon here.

Kitt_knightrider_240_2 KITT’s driving and his ability to marginally change appearance (thanks to a layer of nanobots) confound the baddies, and he’s programmed to next track down Mike. Because… I don’t know. Sarah and Mike, by the way, grew up together (for reasons explained later) and had a fling, and KITT goes all robotic over Sarah’s sadness over her father’s death and the prospect of seeing Mike.

Mike is at a Vegas casino trying to win $90,000 before midnight. KITT tracks him via hacking into CCTV feeds, but suddenly the bad guys are there too. Wha… how? After commercial, we learn they tracked Sarah’s cellphone so quickly that they beat her to the casino. Wow. Sarah finds Mike winning at poker, and offers to pay off his entire debt. Double wow. Academia pays well.

Our heroes evade the baddies and go to find Agent Rivai, who has decided to trust the local sheriff, by which I mean the evil coach who replaced Coach Taylor and then sued the school on Friday Night Lights. Yep, he’s a terrorist too, but now we know these guys are a private security firm called BlackRiver who want Charles’ Prometheus software, because it controls all of the military’s remote weapons. Oy vey. That’s several layers of dumb.

Charles is alive, meanwhile, and finds Mike’s mother Jennifer, who reveals his father is Michael Knight. We all wind up at a run-down motel, where Charles is kidnapped, Jennifer is killed and KITT is disabled. The baddies take off with Sarah and Mike driving KITT manually, and Rivai stuck with the corpse. Our heroes prevail, booting up KITT long enough to use his nanobot armor to crash the baddies’ GM SUV. Though considering Charles and British Bad Dude survive a horrific crash, I’d buy GM.

Jennifer’s funeral is Hoff time, and while I joke that he’s the best actor in this mess, he really does turn in a great cameo. He repeats the line about one man making a difference, and I wish he’d been in this from the start. Charles, meanwhile, is restarting FLAG (the Foundation for Law and Government) as a shadow branch of the FBI. The Hoff’s words convince Mike, who signs on to drive KITT. They then go meddle in international affairs in Prague, which looks a lot like California. The end.

I hate to say it, but I get a Bionic Woman feel. The entire feel of the show reminds me of the ’80s, when characters were rather superficial and plot holes were de rigeur. Val Kilmer was jarring as KITT, literally. Think of large computerized systems like voicemail or even the famous “You’ve got mail” notice: Voices are softened like that of William Daniels (the original show’s KITT) or Will Arnett (first choice for this movie’s KITT). Kilmer has a rough edge that fits an emotional car but not a supposedly emotionless robot.

Knightridder The plot holes were huge. Why was KITT such an evolutionary step back as far as AI? Why would the military use one program for all its drones? Why would a private security firm commit treason and risk the wrath of the U.S. military for a few extra bucks? Halliburton and Blackwater ain’t exactly hurting, people. Why would Agent Rivai leak government secrets (Charles’ use of a body double) to a rural sheriff?

I’m not sold on a series yet, until the show picks up writers who can entertain modern (and by that I mean savvier than in the ’80s) audiences. I think the potential is there, though. What did you think?

About Ryan McGee