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LOST HIGHWAY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 26, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lesser David Lynch movies are no less weird than his biggest hits and here’s another, largely forgotten exercise in strangeness, given a Blu-ray upgrade by Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 28, 1997.

David Lynch is back in a ``Blue Velvet'' mood, after having been diverted for a few years following his ``Twin Peaks'' fiasco (meaning the movie, ``Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,'' not the strangely mesmerizing television series).

And that might be a good or bad thing, depending on your feelings about Lynch's bizarre film work.

In the case of ``Lost Highway,'' there are some striking scenes, moments that fill the eyes and others that rattle the brain. But in the end, audiences may come away wondering what the heck was the point. (Not that that's unusual for a Lynch film.)

For its first third or so, we seem to be in an Alfred Hitchcock movie … if Hitchcock had been on drugs.

The central characters — initially, anyway — are jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his sexy wife Renée (brunette Patricia Arquette), whom Fred suspects of cheating.

At a posh party one night, Fred meets a ``mystery man,'' a short, pasty-faced guy dressed in black (Robert Blake, who is certainly frightening but who also resembles the TV version of Uncle Fester on ``The Addams Family''). And a cell phone call in this scene is bound to go down in movie history as a supremely creepy moment.

     

Robert Blake, left, Bill Pullman, 'Lost Highway' (1997)

One morning, a videotape in a plain manila envelope is dropped on the Madisons' doorstep. They plug it into the VCR and discover that someone has been watching their home with a camera. More tapes follow over the next few days, each carrying the voyeurism a little further, eventually invading their home and filming them asleep in bed. Ultimately, a tape shows the aftermath of a grisly murder.

Fred is arrested and charged with his wife's murder. But did he kill her? For that matter, is she really dead?

Then, before you know it — and in a surprising manner — the action shifts to another set of characters. The central focus is now on Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young auto mechanic working in a small garage (operated by Richard Pryor).

Pete has a passing relationship with a mobster named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), who brings in his car from time to time. But now Mr. Eddy ups the ante by giving Pete an initiation of sorts. (And demonstrates a unique way of dealing with tailgating.)

Later, when Mr. Eddy brings in his sexy moll (Arquette again, now a blonde), it is apparent that Pete will begin an ill-fated affair.

And yet, as this is David Lynch territory, you can be sure that nothing will ever go quite as expected.

All of Lynch's usual tricks are here, with amplified sound, set design (and colors), music and camera placement being integral to the film's tone. along with loopy dialogue. (At one point, Pullman says, ``I like to remember things my own way … not how they actually happened.'')

     

Characters and plots loop around each other, and then come together in the end … sort of. But that's not the same as offering any kind of explanation, and much of the film remains vague and, for me at least, rather unsatisfying.

Lynch's penchant for extreme violence, gore and sexual exploitation are here as well. There are some very gruesome deaths and Arquette spends a surprising amount of the film in various stages of undress, when she's not completely nude.

He's also not above including obvious nods to his influences (Hitchcock, Jim Thompson) and even to those whom he has influenced (Tarantino, ``The X-Files'').

As for the performances, Pullman is pretty good, playing a more gritty character than we're used to seeing; Arquette is rather bland, despite tackling two different roles; and Getty is, surprisingly, effectively low-key.

Loggia has perhaps played his role a few too many times and his violent outbursts are the least interesting character elements in the film. And except for the novelty of seeing him again, Pryor's role is so small he barely registers. Similarly, Gary Busey, as Getty's father, has nothing to do. Blake, however, playing a sort of specter of death, is terrifically scary.

Uneven, to say the least, ``Lost Highway'' does offer some effective moments. But in the end, audience members may simply feel like they've been bashing their heads against a wall for 2¼ hours. Speaking cinematically, of course.

``Lost Highway'' is rated R for considerable violence, gore, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.