Highway 61

(Bruce McDonald, Canada, 1991)


The vagaries determining which films from overseas we, in Australia, do and do not see, never cease to amaze and baffle me.

Why, for instance, was Highway 61 ever selected for Australian release? This Canadian effort is interchangeable with dozens of lazy, contrivedly cool road movies straining for cult appeal.

Imagine a few drawling actors, a handful of catchy songs and plenty of shots of kitsch Americana as seen from a speeding car, and you’ve already experienced just about everything this impoverished film has to offer.

It’s the kind of movie in which everyone talks between quotation marks. Pokey (Don McKellar, who also scripted) is described unflatteringly as “a barber, a Canadian”, so devoid of life experience that he has never visited a big city.

No sooner has he found a frozen corpse behind his shop than Jackie (Valerie Buhagiar) arrives to take him on the road and turn his life upside down. Also after the corpse, or at least its soul, is a rather stupid character named Mr Skin (Earl Pastko) who believes he is Satan.

Nothing in Highway 61 is the slightest bit funny, thrilling or interesting. Bruce McDonald, director of the equally abysmal Roadkill (1989), strives to be in the league of such masters of hip drollness as Aki Kaurismaki, but he has a terribly long way to go.

For surreal, bracingly alien views of the American landscape, it is still hard to go past Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977).

© Adrian Martin February 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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