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New Line Home Cinema presents
Highway (2001)

"Shutup! See, the dog and my man Pilot over here have some real trust issues."
- Scawldy (Jeremy Piven)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: May 07, 2002

Stars: Jared Leto, Selma Blair, Jake Gyllenhaal
Other Stars: John C. McGinley, Jeremy Piven
Director: James Cox

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, drug content, violence, and language
Run Time: 01h:37m:29s
Release Date: March 26, 2002
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Roger Ebert once said that "It is much more fun to write a review of a bad film than of a good film." This is something I would be inclined to agree with, as it is so much more fun to point out flaws than to find ways to describe why things work. Highway is so bad that writing the review should be the equivalent of winning the lottery, getting married, and seeing the Cardinals win the Worlds Series, all at the same time. At least, it will be more fun than watching the film.

Jack (Leto) seems to be happy with his life. He cleans pools for a Mr. Miranda, a mobster, and his overly frisky wife, and has a friend named Pilot (Gyllenhaal) that pretty much worships the ground he walks on. When Jack gets into trouble for his relations with Miranda's wife, he and Pilot (Gyllenhaal) flee Las Vegas for Seattle. They each have their own agenda: Jack is hoping to settle into a new life away from the henchmen sent after them by Miranda; Pilot is after a girl that left him in Vegas. The two quickly take off and along the way encounter Cassie (Blair), a hitchhiker with her eye on Jack, an alligator boy (no I am not making this up), and Johnny the Fox (McGinley) a strung-out drug dealer.

As much as I dislike Highway—and rest assured I do—there is something that almost makes this hour and a half mess worth watching. The direction by rookie James Cox is full of the sort of boundless energy that makes it invigorating. Several of Cox's stylistic choices seem as though they belong in better movies; the opening scenes of Pilot moving maniacally through Las Vegas seem as though they might fit better in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing....

But it is the script by the usually gifted Scott Rosenberg that drives the film into the ground, never creating a clear connection to the central characters for the audience. We have very little background about them while even less is known about the supporting characters. Through flashbacks, we are treated to Jack and Pilot as children growing up together, but these scenes do not expose much about them. It is clear that the meek Pilot idolizes Jack, but we never know why. Meanwhile Cassie is thrown in only to fuel a fight between the two, and even Pilot's accusations against her are unfounded, since we have no idea what he is talking about. Another fault of the script is that a big deal is made about the trip to Seattle for the vigil for Kurt Cobain, but this feels cheap and tacked on to add some Gen X angst. However, Rosenberg does get credit for making a weird sort of homage to The Wizard Of Oz as we see three dim-witted men following a beauty to the "Emerald City" (Seattle) in search of something to make them whole. Then again, I could be giving Rosenberg too much credit—it is only his script that is in need of both a brain and a heart.

The cast, made up largely of familiar faces, is certainly high quality. Leto (Panic Room and Fight Club) is fine here, even though his character becomes a bit too over the top and his chemistry with Gyllenhaal is strangely lacking. Gyllenhall's performance seems akin to his work in Bubble Boy and, unfortunately, far from the quality of his performance in Donnie Darko, as he fails to leave a lasting impression. It should be noted that the best performances in the film come from the gifted pair of Jeremy Piven and John C. McGinley, who breathe life into their scenes, but sadly are underused.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: While the film may have its flaws, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent. Sharpness and detail are outstanding, giving the transfer a very smooth, film-like look that rivals some reference quality discs. Colors are vibrant with little bleeding, but black levels can be a bit soft at times, lacking the depth seen in so many transfers. Chapter fifteen shows this as the visit to see the "alligator boy" shows striking colors but a bit too much grain. Edge enhancement is often done nicely, but there are brief instances where it becomes a problem.

A 1.33:1 full-frame version of the film is offered on the DVD as well, but it does a disservice to Cox's direction as well as the cinematography by Mauro Fiore.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is largely a front-heavy mix, but the split-surround speakers do come into action from time to time. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no distortion evident, while the left and right speakers reproduce composer Rich Robinson's (The Black Crowes) score quite nicely. The surround speakers are used largely for music and ambient sounds and never do more than is needed. Overall this is restrained mix given the possibilities, but it still sounds nice.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Static, film-themed menu pages are offered.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

While I disliked Highway about as much as anyone can possibly dislike a film, I am not above admitting that director James Cox is a talent to watch. It is too bad that his caliber of work, as well as that of Jeremy Piven and John C. McGinely, are underserved by an unsuccessful screenplay.


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