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1 item from 1992

FILM REVIEW - 'Highway 61' By Jeff MenellNEW YORK -- Finally! A current road picture with fuel to spare, and that actually goes somewhere. Bruce McDonald's "Highway 61'' is a naturally bizarre, offbeat, largely upbeat flick that takes us on a funny, memorable ride down that very same Highway 61 that Mr. Dylan once crooned about.

1 April 1992 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The art-house crowd will hitch if they have to, but they'll find a way to get to a theater showing this soon-to-be cult favorite. And the fact that this journey takes us from Canada down to New Orleans, treating us to a broad taste of music in the process, might widen its appeal to include non-metropolitan dwellers. While certainly not mainstream, "Highway 61'' does have an allure that might entrance a wider spectrum of potential viewers.

As written by, and starring, Don McKellar, this opus has the feel of what a "Northern Exposure'' episode directed by Jim Jarmusch would be like. It has a likable quirkiness to it that keeps the viewer in a contented state throughout.

McKellar plays Pokey Jones, a small-time barber in a small-time Canadian town. Pokey, who thinks he can play the trumpet, has larger ambitions, though you'd never know it by looking at him. His calm demeanor is one step above death. Still, he throws his belongings into the back of his '63 Ford Galaxy 500 and heads out for the open road, only to return immediately. Apparently, Pokey does this a lot.

One morning he finds a dead body in his backyard and tries to revive it with a blow dryer. He then meets thrill-seeking rock 'n' roll roadie Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), who claims the dead guy is her brother and that she must take him to New Orleans for his funeral.

Jackie's lying. She just wants to use the body to transport some illicit drugs. But innocent Pokey believes her and since he's always wanted to visit the birthplace of the Blues, he gives her and her casket a lift to New Orleans. It's an eventful ride.

Meanwhile, Mr. Skin (Earl Pastko), a guy who may or may not be Satan, is buying souls left and right. He claims the guy in the casket is his, and chases after Pokey and Jackie. Pastko, who looks like a cross between Keith Carradine and a young Jack Elam, is a sleazy charmer as the guilt-free devil who loves to play bingo.

Along the way they meet a pair of strange U.S. Customs guards, a scary-looking Peter Breck as a deluded single father of three tone-deaf singing girls, and a drugged-out, whacked-out rock 'n' roll couple who hunt chickens in their mansion.

These well-written bizarre characters are what make this film so memorable. There is an unpredictability about the film, in general, that is as refreshing as it is unusual. "Highway 61'' may make a wrong turn here and there, but just getting lost within this funky film is a trip in itself.


A Skouras Pictures Release

Director Bruce McDonald

Writer Don McKellar

Story Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar, Allan Magee

Cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak

Editor Michael Pacek

Original music score Nash the Slash



Key Jones Don McKellar

Jackie Bangs Valerie Buhagiar

Mr. Skin (aka Satan) Earl Pastko

Mr. Watson Peter Breck

Otto Art Bergmann

Customs agent No. 1 Jello Biafra

Customs agent No.2 Hadley Obodiac

Running time -- 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

(c) The Hollywood Reporter


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