Abbe Wool's ROADSIDE PROPHETS wants to be some sort of post-modern 90's EASY RIDER, but for the most part it's as aimless and uninspired as its two main characters.
Joe Mosely (John Doe of the LA punk band X) is a factory worker more interested in his vintage cycle than anything else. When Joe meets fellow employee Dave, they trade bike talk and go to a local bar where Dave (in one of the film's too-infrequent attempts at warped humor) is electrocuted playing
a video game. Dave had talked glowingly about the Nevada town of Eldorado, so Joe has him cremated, puts his ashes in an old motorcycle gas tank, and sets off to deposit his friend there.
Two people are soon interfering with his plans, however: Angie, (whom we hear on the phone, but never see) from his personnel office keeps calling him, offering to provide more sick days to continue his trip, in exchange for a romantic rendezvous on his return. Then there's Sam (Adam Horovitz of
rap/punk trio the Beastie Boys), a crazy kid who's been following Joe, and buys a bike to accompany him to Eldorado. The pair meet up with an assortment of supposedly colorful characters along the way, including truck driver Salvadore (Timothy Leary); bartender Harvey (Arlo Guthrie), who tells
tales of "prehistoric" fish he's caught; a guitar-playing hermit named Othello Jones (David Carradine), who gets the boys high and tells them about Roman gladiators; and Caspar (John Cusack), an anarchist.
Like all mismatched cinematic couples, Joe and Sam get on each other's nerves, and split up when Sam refuses to stay in anything but a Motel 9, a chain he appears to have an unnatural attachment to. They do hook up again in Las Vegas, where they gamble away their money and their bikes, finally
making it to Eldorado where they scatter Dave's ashes. Broke and unsure of what to do, they meet a teenage runaway on the highway. Sam, who up until that point has been critical of every one of the "prophets" they've met, decides to go with the kid to look after her, while Joe stays behind,
hinting at a possible reunion down the road.
Doe (SLAM DANCE, BORDER RADIO), who's been fine in other films (and whose rugged good looks could garner him a role as Harrison Ford's brother), is fairly believable as the world-weary Joe, but Horovitz (the son of playwright Israel Horowitz), with his whining and goofy grin, seems as if he's
about to break into a Jerry Lewis impression; he's more annoying than funny.
The lack of plot could be overlooked if the folks Sam and Joe met on their journey were remotely memorable, but almost every encounter is the same: they run into some eccentric for four or five minutes (sometimes shorter--don't blink or you'll miss Leary and Guthrie), Sam proclaims that they're
insane and drives off. Writer-director Wool obviously wants to make some sort of statement about life in Reagan/Bush America, having characters spout off about nuclear power, the media and the dichotomy of rich and poor, but the "prophets" are onscreen for such a short time nothing registers. (One
wonders whether this is a fault of the actors as well. Perhaps Wool rounded up a bunch of friends and then had them improvise their parts; Leary and Guthrie, especially, appear to have written their own lines.)
Towards the second half of the film, things do pick up slightly: Sam and Joe meet a couple who are both dying (she from AIDS, he from cancer), which naturally brings up some important issues, and Joe talks with a motel proprietor who regrets the passive role he played in his own life, emphasizing
the importance of friends and love. This is a turning point in the film, since it leads to Joe's reunion with Sam, and Sam confessing the reason for his Motel 9 obsession: his parents left and checked into one when he was a child, and were never heard from again. But by then we're too uninterested
by what's gone on before to be affected by these two fairly passive characters.
What could have been a fun, or at least uniquely weird journey is defeated by a lackadaisical screenplay and a lack of imagination. If only the film had been as lively as its soundtrack, which features performances by Doe and his X-mates, Bug Lamp, the Pogues and others. (Brief violence, substanceabuse, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Abbe Wool's ROADSIDE PROPHETS wants to be some sort of post-modern 90's EASY RIDER, but for the most part it's as aimless and uninspired as its two main characters. Joe Mosely (John Doe of the LA punk band X) is a factory worker more interested in his vin… (more)