by David Cornelius
The key word in the title to “Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road” is “episodes.” The film is so clever in its developing its unique chapters - tied together by the story of a young man taking a road trip - that it plays like a nice little anthology movie, or, better still, a television series. In fact, writer/director Bob Gale, best known for penning the “Back To the Future” movies, was also a writer for the whimsical 80s fantasy anthology series “Amazing Stories.” Watching “Interstate 60,” I couldn’t help but think this would’ve made a pretty darn good TV show.As the movie opens, we’re introduced to the idea of O.W. Grant, a magical man with a bow tie, a magic pipe, and the power to grant you one wish. Just a legend cooked up by some nut in a bar? Nope - we soon see this Grant fellow in the flesh, in the form of Gary Oldman. After a comical run-in with Michael J. Fox in a fun cameo, Grant kicks off the story proper by answering the wish of college grad Neal (James Marsden). Neal’s wish? An answer to his life - he’s torn between a dad-pleasing law internship and a life as a struggling artist, and he’s so indecisive about, well, everything.
"A swell ride."
Neal’s wish comes true in the form of a Magic 8 Ball that has a few more answers than your standard store-bought variety. But that’s just the beginning: Neal soon also meets Ray (Christopher Lloyd), who teaches him to see the unseeable, which makes more sense in the context of the movie than it does here with me trying to describe it.
Ray hires Neal to deliver a package to the seemingly nonexistent city of Danver, which is located along the seemingly nonexistent Interstate 60. Grant hops along to act as something of a tour guide through the many strange towns they’ll cross and strange people they’ll meet along the way. Like the man with the bottomless stomach, or the town hooked on a drug called euphoria, or the Museum of Art Fraud, or the small town of Morlaw, which...
Oh, I’ve talked about the plot long enough, and I still don’t think I’ve got this movie adequately described for you. Just understand that the story is partly about Neal’s own personal journey and partly about the fanciful detours that make up the journey’s episodes. The towns along I-60 are one step removed from reality, and yet they comment on our own world, in a lighthearted “Twilight Zone” kind of way.
The detours are the best thing about the film, with wonderful little ideas being tossed around and a fine cast that includes Chris Cooper, Kurt Russell, and Ann-Margret, among others, helping with the tossing. The episodes made me smile, and they made me wish that more fantastical stories like this would pop up these days.
I can’t say the same for the main plot, however. Neal’s story is kinda cheesy and clichéd; in addition to the predictable, well-worn fight with the parents (another kid wants to be an artist... yawn), there’s also a predictable, well-worn search for a dream woman (Amy Smart). The conclusion to both storylines are too bland to fit in with the delights of the various small towns.Still, those small towns are extremely delightful, and Oldman’s such a wonder as the spirited wish granter, that “Interstate 60” becomes a thoroughly enjoyable ride. And I’d love to see Gale craft a sequel, if only to get more from that fertile imagination of his. The people and places along his magical highway make for a delightful experience.
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originally posted: 02/25/07 17:26:59