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HIGHWAY 61 (director/writer: Bruce McDonald; screenwriters: Allan Magee/Don McKellar; cinematographer: Miroslaw Baszak; editor: Michael Pacek; music: Nash the Slash; cast: Don McKellar (Pokey Jones), Earl Pastko (Mr. Skin), Valerie Buhagiar (Jackie Bangs), Johnny Askwith (Claude), Peter Breck (Mr Watson), Art Bergmann (Otto), Tracy Wright (Margo), Tav Falco (Motorcycle Gang Leader), Namir Khan (Undertaker); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Colin Brunton/Bruce McDonald; Skouras Pictures; 1991-Canada)
“A diverting episodic look at some eccentric characters on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Bruce McDonald(“Hard Core Logo”/”Pontypool”/”The Tracy Fragments”) takes his offbeat dark comedy on the road for a diverting episodic look at some eccentric characters on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61. The screenplay is co-written by the director, Allan Magee and, the film’s co-star, Don McKellar.

Good-natured Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) is a frustrated square trumpet player and the local barber in a desolate small-town in Ontario, the fictionalized Thunder Bay, who discovers the frozen corpse of an unidentified long-haired male in a tub outside his barbershop. The next morning the amoral hipster rock ‘n’ roll roadie Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), on the run because she stole the cocaine stash from the heavy metal band she was accompanying in a big city gig, arrives in town by bus and after reading about the corpse in the local paper, decides to claim the corpse as her brother and stashes the drugs in the corpse. Jackie gets the naive stay-at-home Pokey to take her to New Orleans for the supposed funeral and he rides for the first time in the car his father left him when the family died in an accidental house fire over bad wiring.

On Highway 61, the odd couple have sex in a cemetery and are followed by a nut job from Baton Rouge, someone who thinks the Devil (Earl Pastko). This weird character had the corpse before his demise sign a contract to give the Devil his soul when dead in exchange for the hockey stick factory worker receiving a free bus ticket. The so-called Devil wants the body so he can fulfill the signed contract and extract his soul back in Baton Rouge, in a public show he has planned.

En-route to the Big Easy the couple stop off for the barber to admire Dylan’s childhood home in Minnesota, make contact with a bullying weirdo SV traveling rifle-toting single father father, Watson (Peter Breck), and his three small girls he’s obsessed into making famous singers even though they lack talent, a motorcycle gang in Mississippi just hitting the road Easy Rider style, and a debauched rocker couple, Margo (Tracy Wright ) and Otto (Art Bergmann), living out their perversions in a luxury mansion.

The road is filled with lost souls, offering various degrees of quirky humor. If there’s any poignancy, it comes about because McDonald has ulterior political motivations in showing how dumb Americans (and some Canadians) are to sell their souls so thoughtlessly to the Devil for so little. But aside from being offbeat and mildly amusing, there’s little else to recommend about the uneven film.

It should be noted that rockers Jello Biafra and Tav Falco make cameos.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”