Directed by: Bob Gale
Written by: Bob Gale
Starring: James Marsden, Gary Oldman, Amy Smart, Michael J. Fox, Christopher LLoyd, Chris Cooper, Kurt Russell
Released: 2002 / Genre: Fantasy-Comedy / Country: USA / IMDB
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I think Interstate 60’s weirdness is summed up in Gary Oldman’s ginger-haired, bicycle-riding genie who sentences perennial nice-guy Michael J. Fox to death after he makes one, morally misjudged, wish. Then again, the fact he matter-of-factly states he has no penis and smokes a ceramic monkey head that excretes magical green smoke, probably sums it up better, but in this Eerie Indiana meets Dawson’s Creek road-movie, nothing can be taken for granted and everything is an illusion waiting to be uncovered.
One of the striking things about Interstate 60 is that it is a film about questions – lots and lots of questions – yet it doesn’t ultimately answer a single one. Instead of being a question and answer seminar with writer/director Bob Gale, it’s a question and theory session that investigates, albeit in a light and clinical fashion, the moral and ethical fibre of modern America in, as the original title of the film proclaimed: “Episodes of the Road”. It’s a gift-wrapped sort of film, with tightly folded edges and crisp, clean white paper proclaiming its innocence, but while it’s far too nice for its own good, the road trip is one damn good ride.
Interstate 60 is a film that wants, desperately, to be an intelligent examination of the things we take for granted in life. It seems on the surface that such scenes as the hard-working, lower-class, African-American labourer’s campfire story about wish-fulfilment and the circle of life, is preachy and heavy-handed. But Bob Gale underpins this with the idea, as stated as a prologue to the film: “Given an infinite universe, and infinite time, all things will happen. That means that every event is inevitable including the impossible.” There’s an irresistible scene when Christopher Lloyd’s strange character Ray, tricks James Marsden’s Neal Oliver with a magic card illusion showing him that what he thinks he sees isn’t always what he actually sees. It’s a good example of the film as whole, and goes some way to dispel the idea that Interstate 60 is heavy-handed because the character’s are not subtly questioning their surroundings, they are genuinely searching for answers to what Gale would conclude as life’s illusion.
The film tells the story of Neal Oliver – a twenty-two year old who’s stuck between his father’s pushy advances (the beautiful expensive car in return for a law degree), and his desire to be an artist. He’s not comfortable in his relationship (each of his girlfriends is a reaction to the last) and wants some kind of escape – all this while dreaming about a mysterious blonde (Amy Smart) who he has never met. Enter O.W Grant (Gary Oldman), who on Neal’s birthday, offers him the opportunity to have one wish, to which he replies: “I wish for an answer”. As if guiding him, the girl in his dreams seems to have something to do with his ever-stranger circumstances, and he is summoned to a building where he is told that he must deliver a parcel and his wish will be fulfilled. However, the address to which the parcel must be delivered is on the non-existent highway Interstate 60, so Neal must follow the clues that present themselves in order to find it.
Essentially, Interstate 60 is a fantasy-adventure, much in the same way as Bob Gale’s earlier classic Back To The Future, but it’s difficult to pigeonhole. There’s action, drama, comedy, underpinned by the road movie narrative with equal helpings of Twilight Zone macabre. It’s an odd feeling in that Bob Gale makes you believe you are watching something very original, when ultimately it isn’t. But there’s great joy to be had in seeing a film that is created from an odd group of generic component parts that go somewhat to mask the clichés, producing something that is both quirky and, when the sum total of all its parts are added up, unique. There’s an element of anti-modern-Hollywood freshness in the un-commercial absurdity of the film (the obvious sense that Bob Gale was sick of rejections and went it alone), and yet he clearly celebrates classic Hollywood with the mysterious femme-fatale (not the only attribute the film has to film noir) and the character driven narrative.
Interstate 60 is such a difficult movie to summarise and position, yet it is difficult not to like. In a sense, the film has so much within it, like an ice-cream parlour with every flavour on display, that there is something for everyone. When it is all brought together it creates such a delightful finished product that is a pleasure to watch.
The most commercial thing about Interstate 60 is the re-pairing of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox for the first time since Back To The Future, but while both have small roles and never get to interact with each other, they bring an excellent quality to an already big-star line-up. Chris Cooper is fine on autopilot in his cameo as a crazy traveller who loves smoking and really hates liars, while Kurt Russell turns up to play a sleazy cop. James Marsden leads the cast with a solid if unexciting performance, but Gary Oldman up-stages everyone with a characteristically idiosyncratic performance as the wish-giver O.W Grant.
Bob Gale’s film isn’t perfect – it’s episodic, and some will still find it preachy and simplistic underneath – and while James Marsden is a decent actor, he doesn’t have it in him to carry a film, however, its uniqueness prevails. It’s a fun film that offers a shred of optimism grounded by a cold black humour that bubbles at its core, and it’s a film that deserves to finally find its audience.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews