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Neil Young: Human Highway

By Tom Keogh

Neil Young's 1982 comic mess of a feature left many faithful fans baffled and was otherwise unappreciated at the time of its release. But with the benefit of hindsight and shifts in pop culture in the last couple of decades, much of Human Highway now feels warm and funny where it once looked disastrously undisciplined. Nostalgia helps: gilded memories of Devo's decadent antics long ago now make their recurring role in this film (as nuclear plant workers bathed in a suspicious red glow) almost sentimentally appealing. Similarly, Dennis Hopper's role as a chattering nutcase and short-order cook named Cracker looks sharper and more laughable now, and Dean Stockwell's perfectly timed performance as a slimeball businessman is even more entertaining knowing the former child actor was on the threshold of a career revival. (Stockwell is also credited as a writer and codirector of Human Highway.) The story, such as it is, concerns the goofy goings-on at a remote diner and gas station just down the road from a disintegrating nuclear plant. Stockwell's character has inherited the failing, ramshackle eatery and is crafting secret plans to torch the place. Meanwhile, Young's character, a dorky mechanic, swoons in the presence of a favorite waitress (Charlotte Stewart), bickers with his boyish partner (Russ Tamblyn), and dreams of playing music to an audience. Much of the film looks spontaneously conceived, but the players are all so good they know exactly where the laughs are. Influences are easier to spot now, too, particularly the freewheeling set-ups of Paul Morrissey and John Waters (though without their perversity). The hyperreal sets and backdrops actually anticipate Tim Burton by a couple of years, and overall the direction is more sure than most of us could see at the time.

 

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FILM FACTS

Buy this VHS movie from Amazon.com! (Click here!)DVD unavailableSoundtrack unavailable at Amazon.com - try eBay (see links below)Not RatedNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Dean Stockwell

Stars: Neil Young, Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, Devo, Sally Kirkland

Released: October 15, 1982

Availability: VHS


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