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Television Review

Souped-up car rides with flat

KITT is a hot-rod Mustang, voiced by Val Kilmer. KITT is a hot-rod Mustang, voiced by Val Kilmer. (Paul Drinkwater/ NBC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 24, 2008
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What can I say? There are car chases, and there are pretty people who look like daytime soap stars, and there is Val Kilmer's voice as the voice of KITT the talking super ride.

Then there are more car chases, and more pretty people who look like soap stars - this time stripped down to their skivvies, their muscles toned and well-oiled - and more of Val Kilmer's voice, deadpanning lines such as "I suggest you both refrain from speaking unnecessarily, as your oxygen supply is running low" while KITT is engulfed in flames.

And then, once again: chases, pretty people, Kilmer; chases, pretty people, Kilmer. "Knight Rider," a remake of the 1980s David Hasselhoff series, is a vacuous vicious circle that is almost comically nonsensical - almost. The NBC show, which premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 7, wants to be high-octane fun, something like Matt Damon's Jason Bourne movies with a Batmobile, but it's so poorly directed and listlessly acted it's more like "Get Smart" meets "Pimp My Ride."

I assume that executive producer Gary Scott Thompson is excited about remaking "Knight Rider" in order to showcase some mega high tech. But the new "Knight Rider" isn't much more technically engrossing than a slack video game. Back in the 1980s, a talking car was a big deal; now, KITT, a Mustang, has artificial intelligence, the ability to transform into all kinds of cool forms, the capacity to read heart rates. He can even give directions - wow. But what he can't do is dazzle us enough to overcome the inane plotting, which tonight involves a crazed but aimless search for "the package." Don't ask.

Justin Bruening, looking like a knockoff of Jeffrey Donovan from "Burn Notice," stars as Mike Traceur, the son of Hasselhoff's character from the original. Mike works for the creator of KITT, Charles Graiman, played by Bruce Davison with a refreshing modicum of camp. And he may be in love with Graiman's daughter, played by Deanna Russo with a modicum of vapidity.

For all their aerobic impressiveness, Russo and Bruening make a surprisingly dull pair as they pursue the baddies. And Kilmer's characterless intonations don't help matters, as the two humans and their car careen from danger to danger. Everything - the characters, the action - seems stubbornly flat. The atmosphere of "Knight Rider" is certainly artificial, but it's not very intelligent.

Knight Rider

Starring: Justin Bruening, Deanna Russo, Bruce Davison

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight: 8-9

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