Roadside Prophets

1993 Directed by Abbe Wool. Starring John Doe, Adam Horovitz, John Cusack, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 3, 1992

Another entry into the burgeoning ranks of the American New Wave, ...Prophets is a road movie for the Nineties that recalls the archaic escapades of Bob Hope, Easy Rider, and others while also fitting neatly into the ranks of the New Wave -- right alongside W.T. Morgan's A Matter of Degrees, Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth, and Rick Linklater's Slacker, among others. John Doe, a Los Angeles factory worker and motorcycle aficionado, embarks on a less-than-well-thought-out mission to scatter the ashes of a dead friend in El Dorado, Nevada, though he hasn't a clue as to where that may be. That's the plot in a nutshell, really, but along the way Doe meets up with another road casualty, played to geeky perfection by Beastie Boy Horowitz, whose annoying, Brooklynese whine is one of the film's highlights. Reluctant at first to have this displaced white-bread goombah accompany him on his journey, Doe slowly finds himself bonding with Horowitz's character, and side-by-side they head on toward Nevada. The film's title is taken from the bizarre assortment of oddball characters the duo encounters along their way. There's Timothy Leary (looking decidedly older) as a Sixties relic-turned-farmer who spouts roadside philosophy like some mystical desert fountain of knowledge, John Cusack as Caspar, a “Symbionese” dine-and-dash thief of epic proportions, Arlo Guthrie as a jittery gas station attendant, et. al. Cusack in particular is excellent, as he orders plate after plate of “free food for the poor” and then refuses to pay for it, all of this done with the proper revolutionary fervor. Horowitz, though, is the real star of the film. He's all nervous ticks, stutters, and can't-quite-meet-your-gaze bullhooey, and as strange as his character is, you believe every second of it; he draws you in like the geek he is, and then shows you the heart of the matter when you least expect it. Director/scriptwriter Wool (who previously co-scripted Sid & Nancy) has wisely kept the pace of Roadside Prophets moving along rapidly. New characters are introduced every few minutes, spit out a few gobbets of weirdness or disgruntled home brew philosophy, and then vanish from the story. Odd as it may sound, it works perfectly, and Wool's film ends up coming across like some sort of treatise on Nineties disaffection and a paean to following your heart and damn the torpedoes of logical lifestyles. It's a good message, and a wonderful film, the type of which I think we'll be seeing more and more of as the decade progresses.

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Roadside Prophets, Abbe Wool, John Doe, Adam Horovitz, John Cusack, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie

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