Like Alex Cox's STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987) or any given "Rat Pack" movie, HUMAN HIGHWAY appears to have been made largely as a lark by a star and his friends. Neil Young, the band Devo, and most of what would later become David Lynch's repertory troupe are featured in this goofily enjoyable romp about rock 'n' roll in the face of nuclear Armageddon. Workers...read more
Like Alex Cox's STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987) or any given "Rat Pack" movie, HUMAN HIGHWAY appears to have been made largely as a lark by a star and his friends. Neil Young, the band Devo, and most of what would later become David Lynch's repertory troupe are featured in this goofily enjoyable
romp about rock 'n' roll in the face of nuclear Armageddon.
Workers at the Cal-Neva Nuclear power authority (played by the members of Devo: Jerry Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Casale, Bob Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers) prepare to dump nuclear wastes in nearby Linear Valley, where there isn't much life except what gathers at the local diner/garage. Since the
recent death of owner Otto, the diner has been taken over by his son, Young Otto (Dean Stockwell), a considerably more hard-hearted businessman. He instructs the diner staff to be less generous with portions. He also tells his dimwitted mechanic Lionel (Neil Young) to charge more for gas. Young
Otto agrees to hire Lionel's equally dim friend Fred (Russ Tamblyn) on a trial basis, largely because he'll work for free; but he uses this new "hire" as an excuse to fire waitress Kathryn (Sally Kirkland). Lionel dreams of being a "rhythm 'n' blueser" like his idol, Frankie Fontaine. He also has
a crush on waitress Charlotte (Charlotte Stewart), who is preparing to perform at the nuclear plant talent show on the weekend. Young Otto decides that the diner is so in debt that his only option is to burn it down for the insurance. Overhearing this, waitress Irene (Geraldine Baron) cuts
herself in for a piece of the action, and then seduces her boss. On its way to "Megapolitan City," Frankie Fontaine's limo stops off at the diner for repairs. The singer's manager tries to buy the area for a condo development. Lionel is thrilled to meet Frankie (Neil Young). He is knocked
unconscious while working on the car and dreams of becoming a successful rock star. He awakens just before the nearby nuclear reactor explodes. The cast celebrates its last minutes on Earth by singing and dancing to "It Takes a Worried Man (To Sing a Worried Song)." As the credits roll, they
ascend a stairway to heaven.
Filmed in the early 1980s, HUMAN HIGHWAY was never released until it came to home video in 1996, which is surprising: while it's certainly way too weird to have played to mainstream audiences, it should certainly have done well on the midnight circuit that still existed when it was made. Young is
surprisingly funny, mugging shamelessly like a rock 'n' roll Mortimer Snerd. And the remaining cast members are obviously enjoying themselves, presumably making up their own lines (especially Dennis Hopper as the diner's cook); there's little evidence that they had much in the way of a script to
work from. HUMAN HIGHWAY has more than its share of dead spots, including at least half of the extended dream sequence that takes up a third of the film. But the sequence redeems itself with a nine-minute Devo-Young collaboration on "Hey Hey My My," featuring Devo "mascot" Booji Boy on vocals and
a fine skronking guitar solo from Young. And the film ends with what must be one of the oddest production numbers since the heyday of Busby Berkeley, as the whole cast sings and dances with shovels for props (choreographed by Russ Tamblyn, who apparently never got WEST SIDE STORY out of his
system). (Adult situations, substance abuse.)
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