NZIFF 2020 – Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway REVIEW
Director – Miguel Lanso
Starring – Daniel Tadesse (Agent DT Gagano), Guillermo Llansó (Roy Mascarone), Agustín Mateo (Agent Palmer Eldritch), Gerda-Annette Allikas (Malin), Solomon Taste (Batfro), Lauri Lagle (Commandant Rebane), Rene Köster (Captain Lagucci), Iveta Pole (CIA Professor), Aris Rozentals (Jiminy)
If you were wondering where the weird went in this year’s film fest, look no further. GARY STEEL enters another dimension.
It’s true: this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival plays it fairly safe in its selections. Mostly. But there are exceptions, and Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway takes the possibly mythical cult movie genre about as far as it can go.
For those of us who grew up with pulp fiction and eventually fixed on “weird shit” as a more authentic exposition of where culture was at than either the mainstream or art film, here’s a film that plugs into, satirises and pays tribute to b-movies and exploitation cinema from the ‘70s without exactly falling down a nostalgic hole in the process.
They manage that by bringing virtual reality into the picture and thereby combining hi-tech computer skulduggery with low-rent caricatures and concepts that leave the viewer agape at their transgressions. Perverse or perverted? Who knows, but Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway features a hunch-backed African-American “midget” (to use its vernacular) as a CIA operative fighting his Russian adversaries in virtual reality, while his wife is a large, lusty blonde who is tempted by the duplicitous advances of the dwarf’s colleague.
The film is so full of references to b-movies (including the very obvious use of stock footage) that it’s a delight for fans of exploitation cinema. Yes, it’s in bad taste but doesn’t go quite as far into that territory as, say, an early John Waters film. Still, given the exceptionally prudish era we live in and the way social media has of shutting down discourse on anything controversial, these filmmakers have to be congratulated for going as far as they do into deviant territory.
It wouldn’t work, however, if there wasn’t some genuine creativity at play. Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway is liberally dosed with low-rent, hi-tech touches that make it frequently visually mindwarping, including the face masks wedged on the VR villains.
I’m not sure that I quite understood the plot at times but that’s to be expected. One of the delights of b-movies, after all, were the frequent lapses of continuity and bizarre holes in the plots.
When it comes to the specifics, I’m at a loss to do better than Ant Timpson in the programme notes, so I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote his beautifully illustrative (and accurate) prose: “A potpourri of kitsch art direction and surreal absurdism in a steaming crockpot of 70s martial art capers, outré science-fiction, European James Bond rip-offs, Filipino exploitation, electronic muzak, free jazz and cold war paranoia, Jesus is the hallucinatory tale of CIA Agents DT Gagano (on his last job) and Palmer Eldritch. Both are guinea pigs in a top-secret experiment where they’ll go into a coma to fight a Soviet computer virus named Stalin in a virtual reality world. If you’re wondering what that looks like, imagine jiggly live-action animated agents wearing Robert Redford and Richard Pryor cardboard masks fighting evil everywhere.
“When the bad guys in the virtual world wound Gagano, he becomes stuck in his comatose state back in the lab. His wife Malin, a Teutonic specimen twice his size, is crestfallen as she’d been planning on opening a kickboxing studio pizza parlour with him following his forthcoming retirement. This bonkers Euro-mad production is one for the ages so grab some [insert choice of mind-altering substance here], a bunch of likeminded friends and get ready to witness this utter marvel of low-budget ingenuity. It may just make you love indie cinema all over again.”
This movie is “something else”, as they used to say, and we like very much!
* Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway is available to stream online from Sunday July 26 to Saturday August 1.
Check out Witchdoctor’s New Zealand International Film Festival reviews: