Movie Review: Interstate 60 (2002)

Fantasy-blend morality play, political fun _ 6.5/10

Interstate 60Bob Cody: Ever hear of Frederick Turner, Mr. Oliver?
Neal Oliver: No, Sir.
Bob Cody: Well, he was an historian. About a hundred years ago he came up with a theory about the frontier. He said the frontier was a safety valve for civilization, a place for people to go to keep from goin’ mad. So, whenever there were folks who couldn’t fit in with the way things were, nuts, and malcontents, and extremists, they’d pack up and head for the frontier. That’s how America got started…
Neal Oliver: What about space? You know, the final frontier!
Bob Cody: Ah, Star Trek, that isn’t space. That’s television – fine fuckin’ frontier that is. Besides, how many folks can just pack up and go to space?

Directed by Bob Gale
Written by Bob Gale

Gary Oldman … O.W. Grant
Michael J. Fox … Mr. Baker
James Marsden … Neal Oliver
Melyssa Ade … Sally
John Bourgeois … Dad
Roz Michaels … Mom
Amy Stewart … Nancy
Christopher Lloyd … Ray
Kurt Russell … Captain Ives
Liz Royer … Cleaning Woman
Chris Cooper … Bob Cody
Billy Otis … Will Work For Food
Ho Chow … Jack Gas Attendant
Ann-Margret … Mrs. James

The quote provides about as much ‘deep meaning’ as you’re going to get from Interstate 60, which isn’t really a plot-oriented movie so much as a dreamlike journey of a young man’s, somewhat innocent mind. Kind of a simple mind, too. The film features some fine actors—Chris Cooper won an Oscar [Adaptation: 2004] and Ann-Margaret won an Emmy [Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (2010 episode: Bedtime)]—though these roles are essentially cameo. The principal romantic couple aren’t particularly world class talents: no offense to James Marsden, who plays Neal Oliver, and Amy Smart (Nancy), the hottie who gives Neal visions.[1]

In fact, the movie has a TV series/movie feel to it, you know, like Matlock or Murder She Wrote… but it doesn’t make as much sense. It starts out in a tavern with two characters who are only there, well, to start out the movie. They’re like sociology majors and one of them bemoans that America does not have a folk magic dispenser like the Leprechaun in Ireland or even Santa Claus, which began in Europe. Some old guy at the bar then butts in and informs them that America does have such a character, and he’s real, his name is O.W. Grant and he hangs out on “Interstate 60.” When the students get back to the dorm, one of them points out that there is no Interstate 60.

The opening scene kicks you out to the main characters in Real World: Neal Oliver and his sister and also he has this kinda sorta girlfriend, but she doesn’t really count, because his sister (Sally?) is the true friend and sympathizes with his ideals in life. Neal loves painting and art. He’s just graduated high school and making plans. Neal’s father (John Bourgeois) is a self-made man who wants Neal to follow in his footsteps… be a lawyer, go to a status school, etc.

“Give up the art and get real, son.”

Well Papa Sensitivity is rich, and for Neal’s graduation buys him a brand new red BMW convertible… Dad’s favorite color is red, and Neal’s favorite color—which Dad knows—is blue. My memory fails me a little, but some set of circumstances that involve a guy (uncle?) named Ray (Christopher Lloyd)[2] bring O.W. Grant into Oliver’s life, and granting him a wish. [O.W. stands for One Wish, and we learn from several of the characters that you’d better be careful what you wish for.] Neal thinks a bit and comes back to O.W. that he wants to understand what’s important. Or something general like that, find the meaning of life.

Brilliant wish from the perspective of O.W., considering the rather dim and shortsighted wishes of so many others he’s dealt with.

Fade to Neal and the Bimmer on setting forth on mythical Interstate 60 and a series of encounters with people and with towns that (supposedly) help him get direction. From the beginning of the road trip, Neal sees posters and billboards featuring the seductive-looking young woman Nancy (Amy Stewart), usually with a written message giving him navigation instructions or other information. Oh, yes, I believe O.W. in a gesture of kindness, gives to Neal one of those “8-Ball” answer novelties, that you can ask yes-or-no questions. Combination of the 8-Ball, Nancy, and O.W. leads Neal down the highway of discovery.

It’s a winning combination making for some satirical looks at a few contemporary issues. The main two:

  1. Neal picks up a woman who is searching for her teenage son; he has run off to this town where all the kids and most of the adults are hooked on a drug Euphoria. Her son is one of the hookees. They discover him in a Rave-like gathering and the kid is absolutely not going back with Mom. Refusing the multiple offers of the drug by the kids on the floor. Neal and the woman go to the chief of police in the town, played by Kurt Russell. The captain explains that they’ve tried everything to deal with this extremely addictive drug—one dose and you’re hooked for life, withdrawal kills you—and decided to make money on it, while officially discouraging use, by taking over the business… [fascinating take on the drug problem]
  2. Following one of Nancy’s messages, Neal wonders into a town that seems to have an ordinance prohibiting or compelling everything. He is promptly charged with failure to comply with some silly rule (like failure to read one of the rule signs). Turns out everyone in the town is an attorney who makes a living prosecuting and defending and adjudicating all the cases stemming from the town rules and from the general body of national law that looks a lot like, well, America’s. Including sexual harassment and staring cross-eyed at kindergarten teachers… [almost too true to be satirical]

In the course of legal problems from item #2, Neal finally encounters the real Nancy. Let me just leave it at that. We’re close to the end of the story and the resolution back in Real World with Papa and Sis.

Interstate 60 provides a pleasant enough mix of fantasy and coming-of-age lessons, in which believable plot isn’t vital. Some fantasy blends are much better, some are much worse. I liked the movie mainly because of the two generally libertarian and self-responsibility moral injunctions derived from the towns above. 6.5 perhaps 7.0 out of 10, no more.


[1] Reminiscent of American Graffiti where the Richard Dreyfuss teenager sees the young woman in the T-Bird (Suzanne Somers), and longs for her as if she’s this vision of perfection.

[2] Michael J. Fox is also in the movie. No surprises there. Producer/director/writer Bob Gale is best known for doing Back to the Future in all its incarnations.



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