Interstate 60

Director: Bob Gale  
James Marsden, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lloyd

Sitting in front of my computer for hours writing reviews does have its rewards, I'll admit. I'm really happy whenever I hear from someone who has taken my recommendation for a movie I've liked, then sought out the movie for themselves to watch. Still, sometimes I feel like I ought to give myself a reward of a much larger nature, a reward for all those years I have spent working on this web site. Not just a small reward that can be savored for just an hour or two, but something much larger. When the subject of big rewards comes up, one particular kind of reward often comes up, and that is the reward of traveling to some location unlike the one that you or someone else is currently living in. As I've said several times in the past, I would love to take a vacation if I could put my employment and web site duties aside for a moment. If I could, great, but I would only want to travel a certain way if I could. I wouldn't want to take a cruise on a ship - being surrounded by a dull ocean for hours on end would be boring, and there would likely be few people my age on the ship. As for taking a plane, well, I know from experience that sitting in one place for hours on end is excruciating, and seeing nothing but clouds out of my window would just be as boring as seeing the ocean. My idea vacation? I would like to relearn how to drive again (I haven't driven a car for about twenty years), get a car, and hit the open road. The scenery would constantly keep changing along the way, and if I got fidgety in my seat, I could easily pull over and get out of my car for a while to stretch my muscles.

The road trip. I can say with full confidence that there are many other people out there who dream as I do about getting a vehicle and hitting the open road. Why am I so confident in saying that? Well, the reason is that Hollywood has used the idea of road trips many times. And it's not a new thing. For example, just look at the 1934 Oscar-winning Clark Gable / Claudette Colbert movie It Happened One Night - most of that movie took place with the main characters traveling out on the open road. I could easily list a number of other examples of Hollywood road trips, from the Ivan Reitman-produced Road Trip to one of my personal favorite movies, Your Three Minutes Are Up. With all these road trip films, a question comes up: Why does Hollywood like this particular genre so much? I've thought about it, and I have come up with several possible answers. One of the most likely answers is that when characters are out on the road, they bump into a lot of variety along the way. New characters with different quirks appear, and there are new settings and situations. Sometimes it seems like anything can happen, and that can make writing the screenplay a lot easier than usual. Another possible reason that the road trip appeals to Hollywood filmmakers is that all the experiences that the characters encounter out on the road can lead to changes to the characters. It's an excuse for character development, something that no doubt appeals to serious screenwriters. The screenwriters can also subtly ask their audience, "What would you do in this situation?", which means the movie can more likely hit home and stay in the audience's memory for a long time afterwards.

As you may have guessed, Interstate 60 is a road movie. That alone made it appealing to me, but there were some other things that attracted me to it. The movie promised to be the kind of road movie that most appeals to me, where the character traveling would encounter a number of quirky situations along the way, that put together would change the character's perspective. I like it when a movie shows me new and odd things, and also when it shows a character's evolution. Another thing that perked my interest was the fact the movie was written and directed by Bob Gale, who previously wrote offbeat and appealing movies like Back To The Future, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and Used Cars. And while it was an independent production, it managed to attract some major stars to appear in it, some of whom I'll reveal in the following plot description. The movie starts Interstate 60off with the introduction of a mysterious figure named O. W. Grant (Oldman, True Romance), someone who is reported to be half leprechaun and half Native American, and has the power to grant wishes - though the Irish part of him makes him mischievous about it, as we find out when we first see him give a businessman (Michael J. Fox in a cameo - the first of several famous actor cameos in the movie) a wish. Shortly afterwards we are introduced to the movie's central character, one Neal Oliver (Marsden, X-Men), a resident of St. Louis. He is an unsatisfied young man, despite coming from a wealthy and loving family and having a girlfriend. His father is pushing him into entering a famous law school, but he wants to be an artist. In fact, his dabbles in art are also bothering him, because he keeps drawing the same mysterious woman over and over. At his birthday dinner (with the mysterious O. W. Grant posing as a waiter), Neal wishes for an answer to his life over his birthday cake. Shortly afterwards, Neal gets into an accident that lands him in the hospital. While recovering, Neal is visited by a mysterious doctor named Ray (Lloyd, Back To The Future) who confuses him with card tricks and then mysteriously disappears. The rest of the hospital staff subsequently tell the confused Neal that they don't know a doctor named Ray. After Neal is discharged, he has several bizarre experiences (including seeing on billboards the girl he has been drawing) that eventually lead him to Ray again, who offers him a strange job assignment: to take a package to someone in the city of Danver. No, not Denver - Danver. Neal is told that Danver can be found on Interstate 60, though Neal subsequently can't find an Interstate 60 on any map. Neverless, he jumps into his convertible and starts his journey to find Danver, wherever it may be. In short time, Neal bumps into the mysterious O. W. Grant again... and that's when things start to get even stranger for Neal, and the journey has just begun!

Whew! That plot description is a lot longer than what I usually write for my typical movie review. But I felt it was necessary to do so for several good reasons. As you could probably tell from that plot description, Interstate 60 does not really follow a specific formula. I'm sure you have never seen a movie with an opening like the one that you just read. Also, when the hero of this movie gets out on the open road and starts his journey, he doesn't have the kind of experiences you typically find in road movies, even those that try to be a little quirky. At one point, Neal is told, "We see what we expect to see, not necessarily what's really there," and soon after is also told, "Your brain's wiring is like the interstate highway system. It's easier to go from one well-travelled place to another, but the places in-between, off the highway, even though they're there, most people just zip past right them." Obviously, the movie's message is that we, the audience, should make time to pause in our routines to smell the roses that are on the edge of our paths, even if these experiences are not as wild and outrageous as what Neal experiences down Interstate 60. Each episode Neal experiences, seen individually at least (more on that later), will grab you with their freshness and bouncy energy. Neal experiences such things as a town full of drug addicts, another town full of lawyers, a hitchhiker who has a serious death wish, and a small man at a greasy spoon diner who plans to eat an impossible amount of food. I won't go into any more detail about these encounters, because I want you to experience them with no spoilers as I did the first time I watched this movie. Many of these stops along Neal's journey are amusing, but best of all they each had me guessing repeatedly how each experience would eventually play out and end. Predictability is something that Interstate 60 is seldom guilty of.

While these vignettes are written to be original and unpredictable, they could have still been ruined if the central character - Neal - had reacted to them in a wrong way. I am confident that if this was a major Hollywood studio movie, Neal would have been reacting with gross disbelief while mugging into the camera, to tell the brain-dead members of the audience, "Boy, isn't this goofy!" Fortunately, that's not how it happens here. When strange stuff starts happening to Neal, he is at first bewildered... but he's also intrigued. He may be confused, but he clearly sees that there is no real danger coming from the odd things he is seeing, so his natural curiosity is turned on and he is compelled to investigate further. I know that if these things were happening to me, I would press on, wanting an explanation. And I think you would, too. While the character of Neal is written to be smart and curious, it also needed the right actor who could show this intelligence and intrigue with a natural feel. I'm happy to report that the casting of James Marsden in the lead role fits the movie well. Marsden doesn't make great strides to make his character memorable in a heavy way by overacting. Instead, he makes his character memorable by acting like a reasonably intelligent person. Whenever his character makes any decision, I could see myself acting and reacting in the same way if you or I were in the same situation. Marsden is also well supported by the rest of the cast. Christopher Lloyd is lightly off-the-wall and endearing in his role, so much so that it's kind of a shame his role is a pretty limited one. And those accustomed to Gary Oldman in roles of a more darker nature will be surprised by his comic performance here. Dressed in Pee-Wee Herman-like clothing, Oldman is clearly having a ball, and his enthusiasm gives his mysterious O. W. Grant character the comically mischievous nature the script calls for.

Although Bob Gale had some directorial experience before making Interstate 60, this was the first time he directed a feature-length movie. And his directing here is pretty good, especially when you consider that the budget of this movie was just a fraction of what was given to a typical major Hollywood studio movie. Sometimes the lack of money shows, with an above average use of close-ups and the outdoor locations looking pretty anonymous for most of the journey (most of the movie was shot in Canada.) But even when weaknesses like that show, Gale still manages to make each scene accomplish what was intended. Interstate 60 ends up being a fun, quirky movie to watch. But there are several flaws that hold it back from what could have made it a great film, which I will now list. The first objection I have is with the movie's use of foul language, which explains its "R" rating. Foul language in a movie usually doesn't bother me, but it did here; the movie's tone is otherwise so sweet and innocent that the repeated utterances of harsh four-lettered words seemed really out of place here. The second problem I had with the movie is that it's too long. With the movie running close to two hours long, eventually I felt that there were too many vignettes for the movie's own good, even though each vignette was entertaining by itself. I started to wish that the movie would start to wrap things up much sooner than it did. The last problem I had with the movie was when Neal eventually meets and gets involved with the mysterious woman whose face he's been sketching. The movie not only forgets that Neal already has a girlfriend (who seems to be a nice woman from what we see of her) back home in St. Louis, this girlfriend is also forgotten about and never brought up again when Neal returns home! The fact that Neal would throw away something of substance for a fantasy of sorts bothered me, and lessened my sympathies for him. These three problems the movie has won't stop you from enjoying Interstate 60 as a whole... but as I said, you'll see greatness that wasn't quite realized.

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See also: Bunny O'Hare, Gas-s-s-s, Your Three Minutes Are Up