Interstate 60 Review
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, black labourer’s ‘campfire’ story about wish-fulfilment and the circle of life, is preachy and heavy-handed, but Bob Gale underpins it 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 whose stuck between his father’s pushy advances (the beautiful expensive car 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 could quite easily be pigeonholed as a drama-comedy-fantasy, action-adventure, road-message movie with equal helpings of Twilight Zone mystery, thirties classic movie serials, eighties straight-to-video b-movies, and weekday morning kid’s educational television. It’s an odd feeling that Bob Gale can produce in the audience that 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 goes somewhat to mask the clichés, producing something that is both quirky and unique. There’s an element of anti-modern-Hollywood freshness in the un-commercial uniqueness 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, it suffocates the audience making it very 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 to like. When it is all brought together it creates such a delightful finished product, there’s something very sweet, above its minor flaws, that makes watching it such a pleasure.
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 they 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.
The film is presented in its originally intended aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and anamorphic enhanced. While the print is in good condition and the low-budget constraints of the film are hardly noticeable, the image does lack clarity and the colours continually look a little soft and muted. Blacks particularly are a shade too light and the level of detail within the image could certainly have been better.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the other hand is excellent given the type of film it is with good use of the surround speakers and the sub-woofer does its job when called upon. Dialogue does show-up some of the constraints of the low-budget as it appears somewhat muddy at times, but it is well-separated for the most part.
Audio Commentary with writer/director Bob Gale and actor James Marsden - This is a superb commentary track by Gale who comes across as a ‘real’ film fan and speaks with such enthusiasm about the film that obviously brought him as much pain and pleasure. The two reminisce about anecdotes from the production as well as Gale discussing how the film came about and how it was shot on a low-budget. This is one of those commentary tracks that really deserves to be listened to.
Behind The Scenes Featurette - This fifteen minute featurette is a brief look at the making of the film with interviews with Bob Gale and other principle production staff and actors.
Set Design - This three minute behind the scenes featurette looks at how the sets were transformed into the ones featured in the film.
Filmographies - Filmographies for writer/director Bob Gale and six of the main actors are featured on the DVD also.
Interstate 60 deserves to find its audience on DVD - it’s a terrific little film and while the DVD isn’t anything special it’s certainly adequate enough for Bob Gale’s gem to seek out those that will cherish it.