ByÂ Bill Keveney, USA TODAYOn NBC'sÂ Knight Rider, horsepower equals star power.
The talking car at the center of the 1980s action show returns in updated form in a two-hour movie (Sunday, 9 ET/PT) that could rev up a newÂ Knight RiderÂ series.
Twenty-six years after the original series, creating a new KITT â€” upgraded from Knight Industries Two Thousand to Three Thousand â€” posed a challenge: keeping ahead of computer-driven, GPS-directed auto technology. "What we said when we started this was, 'Everybody's got a talking car,' " executive producer David Bartis says.
But they don't have a car that can shift shape and color, as the current KITT can. "It can change shape slightly to increase its speed and handling," he says. "That's something we've read about as a technology that's not too far away."
The crime-fighting KITT still has an artificial intelligence, voiced by
Â Val Kilmer, that can hack computer systems and tell its driver, Mike Tracer (Justin Bruening, filling David Hasselhoff's seat), when he's heading the wrong way, Bartis says. "This car knows it's right, and we've got a guy driving the car who does things a little by the seat of his pants. So you'll see the car questioning him and challenging him."Â
KITT will now be played by a Ford Mustang, replacing the original 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. The movie features the iconic Mustang, showcasing a muscular, limited-edition Shelby GT500KR (KR stands for King of the Road, notÂ Knight Rider), as part of a marketing and production partnership with Ford. NBC has been one of the most aggressive networks in placing sponsors' products in its shows.
Kilmer, who drove the Batmobile in the 1995 filmÂ Batman Forever, just replaced Will Arnett (Arrested Development), who gave up the role because of his long relationship doing voice work for GM. William Daniels voiced the sharp-tongued KITT in the series.
"Val's voice is incredibly rich and expressive, and he also gets the comedy of it," Bartis says.
In the movie, KITT creator Charles Graiman's daughter, Sarah (Deanna Russo), joins forces with ex-Army Ranger Tracer and an FBI agent (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) to search for her father (Bruce Davison) and find out who's trying to get their hands on KITT. Hasselhoff also appears and could occasionally return if the film leads to a series.
The movie tries to retain the lighter, action-drama tone of the original, while grounding it more in reality, going home with the characters and putting them in real jeopardy, Bartis says. To that end, the new KITT drops a few bells and whistles, including its turbo boost.
Bartis acknowledges that some fans of the original may object to changes, a phenomenon experienced by new versions ofÂ Battlestar Galactica,Â Bionic WomanÂ andÂ Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
"We wanted to find the balance between how much to keep of the original and how much to reinvent it," he says. "For the most part, we found a really good balance."