The City of Absurdity Lost Highway
a film by David Lynch
'Lost Highway' soon loses its way

Some of Lynch's comic horror works, but most of it falls short

By Jeff Strickler
Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 28, 1997

Unless you're a David Lynchaholic, "Lost Highway" ultimately is a lost cause.

The comic drama-cum-horror story is not without its moments. There are some nice vignettes sprinkled throughout, but not enough to fill 2 1/2 hours. The movie surprises us at times, amuses us at others. But in terms of producing a narrative that has us on the edge of our seats or characters with whom we've formed a bond, it comes up woefully short.

When Lynch is at his outrageous best - "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet" and the "Twin Peaks" TV series (not to be confused with the 1992 movie spin-off) - viewers tend to either love his stuff or hate it. But either way, it grabs them. This doesn't grab. We have no emotional stake in the movie, plot or protagonists.

In typical Lynch fashion, the iconoclastic writer-director doesn't want the audience to know exactly what we're watching. So he blends reality with hallucination, romance with violence and humor with horror. A character played by Bill Pullman suddenly is played by Balthazar Getty; meanwhile, Patricia Arquette and Robert Loggia turn up in multiple roles.

Meandering about

The first half-hour consists primarily of posing. Fred Madison (Pullman, "Independence Day") is a jazz saxophonist who suspects that his wife (Arquette, "Flirting with Disaster"), is having an affair. They spent a lot of time being uneasy in each other's presence.

The story kicks into gear with the arrival of the Mystery Man (Robert Blake, "Money Train"), a Faustian devil who has shown up to claim a few troubled souls. One of them, apparently, is Fred's.

To say more about the story would be a disservice. For one thing, it would ruin the plot's surprises - some of which make sense, most of which don't. But getting caught up in a blow-by-blow report of the narrative also seems to fly in the face of the spirit of the film, which is more interested in evoking a mood than telling a story.

Fred experiences a series of bad dreams that eventually turn into an extended nightmare in which Lynch plunges over the cliff of surrealism. The viewer is left to ponder which character represents Lynch: The Mystery Man, who manipulates others with or without their permission, or Fred, who is being dragged down into a whirlpool of horror?

Many of the best moments are little asides that have little to do with the plot. Among these is a gangster (Loggia) who gets really upset when people tailgate his beloved car.

Part of the reason these vignettes are so entertaining might be that they are among the few things to which the viewer can relate. Too much of the rest of the film smacks of Lynch wrestling with his private demons. In that respect, we're left wondering if "Lost Highway" is more of a movie or a therapy session.

Lost Highway
2 out of a possible five stars

- Starring: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Robert Loggia.
- Director: David Lynch.
- Review: Although amusing at times, this horror story eventually loses its way in a surrealistic nightmare that leaves the viewer uninterested in the characters and the story.
- Rating: R, violence, profanity, sex.

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© Mike Hartmann