Lost Highway

Movie Review #923


Nationwide release on February 21, 1997. Drama/Mystery/Thriller. This film is rated R for bizarre violent and sexual content, and for strong language. Runs 134 minutes. French-American co-production. Director: David Lynch. Written by: David Lynch & Barry Gifford. Cast: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Michael Massee, Robert Blake, Giovanni Ribisi, Scott Coffey, Richard Pryor, Robert Loggia, and Jack Nance.


By Alexander Diminiano

You’d think that David Lynch’s weirdest would be his greatest. But even radicals have their limits, don’t they? From square zero, back when he began doing low-budget short films in the late 1960’s, Lynch has always been cinema’s most radical poet. But “Lost Highway” pushes the director’s limits, those for the strange and the bizarre, so much that it’s all too difficult to call it a visual poem. And it doesn’t push these limits with the grace of a fingertip, but rather with the grace of a sledgehammer.

I can’t quite say what this movie’s about. It’s not the awesomely unexplainable Lynchian plot that “Eraserhead” and “Blue Velvet” were. Instead, it’s an engrossingly macabre story that doesn’t take long to collapse into a confusing and nonsensical debacle. You gotta give the movie props for the premise it sets itself up on, though: a man and his wife suddenly discover that they’re being videotaped as they sleep, and there’s absolutely no evidence that leads to who might be the one spying on them. But that exposition proves irrelevant to the rest of the film. Lynch and his co-writer Barry Gifford (who wrote the novel Lynch’s 1990 film “Wild at Heart” is based on) completely abandon that awesome setup. They venture into a story that plays out like a series of randomly selected sequences from 1960’s biker B-movies. And even if you happen to have a collection of biker movies laying around in your basement, you still probably couldn’t care less about the story.

To call the cast “hit-and-miss” is to give it a wildly undeserved compliment. Those who actually do well here don’t even show up for very long. Interestingly enough, these also happen to be the actors to whom “Lost Highway” is a swan song. Comedian Richard Pryor and Lynch regular Jack Nance both deliver solid performances their respective, memorable supporting roles. (This was Pryor’s last film before his death roughly 8 years after the film’s release; Nance, however, had died less than a month earlier.) Maybe truest highlight of “Lost Highway” is Robert Blake, who, half a century after his child performance in the Our Gang shorts, is insanely creepy and unrecognizable. This was his final role before retirement, and I have to say, he ended his career on a stellar note. His performance lasts long enough to induce nightmares, but what a shame he only shows up for three minutes here.

Patricia Arquette does well in “Lost Highway”—that is, in half her role. Her performance serves as an prototype for the female lookalike duo in “Mulholland Dr.”: in one reality, she plays the protagonist’s wife, and quite strongly. However, I can’t remember, for the life of me, what she did in the role set in the film’s alternate reality. I think she might’ve played a prostitute at One Eyed Jacks. It’s a shame she’s only so memorable, because this half of her role is actually more prominent than her strong half. Equally prominent is Bill Pullman as the key protagonist. His role was blatantly meant for Kyle Maclachlan, and Pullman is aware of this. In fact, he doesn’t make any attempt to develop any interpretation of his own; rather, he provides a very poor Dale Cooper impersonation throughout the film.

You know Lynch is in trouble when his sex scenes feel excessive, gratuitous, and pointless. It’s quite hard to believe that these filler moments are from the same director who atmospherically mastered the art of the sex scene in “Blue Velvet”. That’s really just a small part of a broader flaw: David Lynch’s attempt to make “Lost Highway” his most surreal picture is ambitious on paper and aimless in execution. As a result, the only truly surreal scene here is the super-eerie Mystery Man (Robert Blake) scene. The rest of the movie is shallowly scripted and deliriously crafted. If you wish to be alternately confounded and bored by a vagabond story, then by all means watch “Lost Highway”. But if you’d rather have your eyes transfixed the screen as you watch a movie, rather than your watch, or the insides of your eyelids, then this just might not be your kind of film.