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Lost Highway

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Lost Highway

Starring: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette
Director: David Lynch
Rated: R
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: February 1997
Genres: Drama, Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Robert Blake, Gary Busey, Richard Pryor, Natasha Gregson Wagner

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

At a party, a mystery man in white-face, with black lips and no eyebrows, approaches from across the room. Fred recognizes him from a dream. "We've met before, haven't we?" the man says, smiling dangerously. "I don't think so," Fred stammers, "Where was it you think we met?" "At your house. In fact, I'm there right now." Fred twitches nervously and says "That's fucking crazy, man!" Smoothly, the mystery man pulls out a cell phone and barks "Call me. Dial your number." Fred calls his home phone number. After two rings, he hears it answered. "I told you I was here," says the voice of the mystery man over the phone. Astonished, Fred gazes at the man standing in front of him and gasps "How'd you do that?" Staring intently at the phone in Fred's hand, the man says "Ask me," then laughs like a maniac.

Welcome to "Lost Highway," the latest offering from "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks" creator David Lynch. This time around, Lynch dispenses with any semblance of traditional storytelling, pushing the weird-o-meter off the scale in a baffling excursion into horror noir.

Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette play Fred and Renee, an edgy couple who communicate in a halting, primary school form of dream-speech. Every move these two make imparts a sense of dread, a Lynch specialty. Life in their orange retro-trendy home goes from creepy to creepier as they find a series of videotapes on their doorstep. After a tape reveals that someone has filmed the couple while they were sleeping, they call the cops. Fred tells the Dragnet boys of his disdain for camcorders, stating blandly (and significantly,) "I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened."

It's possible the whole film is presented from Fred's tortured point of view. Mind you, I'm just guessing here. Anyway, after encountering the aforementioned mystery man (played with psychotic gusto by Robert Blake,) Fred finds another tape, showing him standing over Renee's dead body. In quick fashion, Fred is convicted of murder and locked in a gothic prison cell by guard Henry Rollins (whose neck, by the way, is now wider than his head.) During a morning cell check, the authorities discover that Fred has disappeared, and in his place is Pete (Balthazar Getty,) a dazed young auto mechanic who squints a lot. Since Pete isn't Fred, he is released from prison by the confused warden.

Are you still with me? Congratulations. Pete recuperates at home, where his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) watch produce documentaries and make cryptic remarks that indicate they might know what happened to their son. When he returns to work, psycho-gangster and regular customer Mister Eddy (Robert Loggia) shows up with his girlfriend Alice (also played by Arquette.) Despite having watched Mister Eddy pistol whip a discourteous driver while screaming highway safety statistics, Pete decides to have an affair with Alice. This leads to a numbing series of schemes and surrealistic images, punctuated by lots of ultra-violence. Eventually, just after having sex in the desert night beneath the headlights of a car, Pete turns back into Fred, the mystery man pops up repeatedly, and the film loops back around in moebius strip fashion.

So, what does it all mean? Well, maybe Fred killed his wife, but couldn't cope with the consequences. Trapped in his cell, he falls into a dream and imagines he is transformed into another man and freed. In short order, though, he becomes involved with another incarnation of the woman he murdered, finding that even a psychotic state of mind affords no escape from his personal Hell. Or maybe he did change identities, only to be pursed by the wrathful spirit of Renee. I'm just guessing here.

It's also possible that the whole thing is just beautifully photographed smoke and mirrors from a gifted director who has painted himself into a creative corner. David Lynch has been blending sex, violence, doppelgangers, surrealism and deadpan humor for years, upping the outrage level with each new work. Maybe this is just where he ended up, on his own Lost Highway, performing dazzling, but meaningless cinematic card tricks. I honestly don't know whether Lynch's work here is ballsy or merely desperate. If you see "Lost Highway" and figure out what going on, drop me a line, okay?

Copyright 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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