|MILD AT HEART
TIME, MARCH 3, 1997 VOL. 149 NO. 9SURE IT'S ODD, BUT A NEW DAVID LYNCH IS OLD STUFF
BY RICHARD CORLISS
One reviewer emerged from an early screening of Lost Highway with the cry of "Garbage!" Well, David Lynch must be doing something right. The creator of Twin Peaks describes his first film in four years as a "21st century noir horror film." It has a battered suitcase of references to old Hollywood film noir, the requisite gore for a scare show and, in the spooky presence of Robert Blake - with his pancake white face, shaved eyebrows and sickly smile - an eldritch harbinger of death like the dwarf in Twin Peaks. So whatever that critic may think, Lost Highway isn't refuse. But it ain't revelation either. What's missing is the shock of the new.
The plot, which cunningly loops itself like a Mobius strip with sprocket holes, starts with a couple, Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee (Patricia Arquette), troubled about intrusions into their home and their private lives. Renee vanishes, and the film changes lanes. It follows Pete (Balthazar Getty), a grease monkey who dumps his girlfriend (Natasha Gregson Wagner) and takes up with a gangster (Robert Loggia) and his moll. Damned if this new femme fatale doesn't look exactly like Renee, but with platinum blond hair.
Several motels and murders later, and in between cameos by such veteran outragers as Richard Pryor, Henry Rollins and Mink Stole, we notice the signposts. This is a milder Wild at Heart, the 1990 road movie that, like this one, Lynch wrote with novelist Barry Gifford.
If Lost Highway had preceded Wild at Heart (or Eraserhead or Blue Velvet), it might give off a sense of otherworldly menace. But we've visited this planet before, become familiar with its obsessions and grotesqueries until they hold as little terror as garden gnomes. And while it's always a tonic in this timid film age to see directors try something different, Lost Highway is the same different. Someone should tell Lynch that noir is a genre, but weird isn't.