It’s April 1994, for no particular reason except that a Seattle vigil for the then-recently-deceased Kurt Cobain figures in the journey. Pool cleaner Jared Leto gets caught boinking a married woman. Said woman’s husband sends goons after Leto to break his feet. Leto takes off with lifelong stoner buddy Jake Gyllenhaal for, yep, Seattle. Along the way they pick up drifter Selma Blair. Sadly, my admiration for Gyllenhaal and Blair did not compensate for my knee-jerk aversion to Jared Leto. All three of them are ill-served here, though Leto plays on the level of the material and doesn’t come off too horribly. For the most part, I just wished I were watching Jake and Selma in a better film.
Highway is aggressively overdirected, with lots of “Look how cool this angle is” and “See how tricky my editing is.” Scripter Scott Rosenberg, also credited as a producer, has seen better days. It’s his dialogue that keeps the proceedings marginally amusing, but the movie is fundamentally aimless, and the actors embody quirks, not characters. For instance, the notion of giving a character a goofy name with a backstory (Gyllenhaal’s character is named Pilot because his mom boffed a pilot but never learned his name) was lame when they did it in another wannabe-Quentin road movie, Feeling Minnesota.
The supporting cast offers some divertissements. John C. McGinley has a couple of decent moments as Johnny the Fox, a dreadlocked drug dealer the guys befriend. Jeremy Piven, as usual, rocks the house as another dealer; he barges into the movie, trashes the place, and exits shrieking with laughter. (He has a later, brief scene, but Piven fans will fixate on his longer scene.) Yet even Piven is sabotaged by fancy editing (jump-cuts, etc.) that draws your attention to the “directing” and away from his frenzied performance — his is the sort of scenery-chewing turn that needs to play out in long takes, so that he can set his own gonzo rhythm. Frances Sternhagen, always welcome, appears in the movie’s most pointless passage, in which the trio go to see “The Boy” — a congenitally deformed guy Gyllenhaal becomes obsessed with.
Is there really any justification for setting this in the days after Cobain’s suicide? Not especially. It’s still a bit early for 1994 nostalgia movies, and when you think of what other movies came out that same year — *ahem*PulpFictionNaturalBornKillers*cough* — that just kick this film’s ass and take its bike…
Well, Highway even sucks compared to the films Tarantino didn’t direct; look at True Romance, which is pretty much as aimless as this movie yet has no shortage of great scenes and juicy confrontations for actors to dig into and for viewers to talk about for years. Nobody will be talking about Highway for years, of that I’m quite sure. The difference between real Tarantino and faux-Tarantino like this is the difference between genuine, balls-out, sharply written fun and a pallid, soulless imitation of same. Toss this one in the same shitcan as 2 Days in the Valley and The Big Hit.