Made for a budget under a million dollars, Miguel Llansó’s cheap as chips spoof spy thriller is something that is very hard to describe. It’s a melting pot of tropes and cliches from both 80’s cinema and cheap exploitation movies of the 70’s, and as a result makes reviewing it a difficult task. This is quite possibly unlike anything you’ve seen before, which is something worth celebrating. But there is of course an issue with ladling on the weird for weird’s sake.
The film, set during the Cold War, follows CIA agent Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) who is tasked, along with his partner Agent Palmer (Agustin Mateo), to track down an evil computer virus known as ‘Soviet Union’ inside a VR system. Travelling into the VR world, Gagano soon discovers that the mission is a trap, and has to find a way out of his VR imprisonment before his mind is lost forever.
There’s a number of different styles and approaches to be found in Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway. There’s kung fu fight scenes with Street Fighter-inspired voice-overs. There’s a stop-motion VR world where character’s avatars are represented by cardboard masks of famous figures of the 1980’s. And then there’s an Irish Stalin. Oh, and a corrupt Presidential candidate called Batfro who dresses up like Adam West’s Batman with a pixelated Bat-symbol, all set to a Jazz/Synth hybrid soundtrack. It throws in everything and the kitchen sink, just as long as it’s cheap.
It all makes for an utterly bewildering experience. It is an unpredictable journey, one where all is not what it seems, as it soon becomes clear that the depths of the trap that Gagano is in has more layers to it than initially assumed. There’s enjoyment to be had from such an approach. It is a film that is almost impossible to predict, and some of its zanier tendencies can be funny. But once you get beyond the film’s novelty of being very weird, there’s very little left to hold on to.
This is a film clearly designed with cult status in mind, and I do not doubt that there will be many that lap up its hair-brained looney tunes approach. But for others, myself included, there comes a point where the bizarre decisions and random plotting becomes too scattershot to prove to be all that entertaining, largely becoming more irritating than anything else. The deliberately bad dubbing, the inconsistency of aspect ratio and frame rates are all deliberate moves, and you just can’t help but feel this tribute to exploitation movies of the past is nothing more than a hollow recreation that enjoys ladling on the madness.
However, there is an odd sweetness to the film represented in Gagano’s desire to leave the spy game and settle down with his girlfriend. It’s a welcome piece of character motivation in a film that is otherwise slim on it. It helps to keep your focus amidst all the distracting business that’s going on around the fringes, moments which often feel like they’re playing for laughs but are too obscure to register. It’s a film that relies on its obscureness in order to be funny, but a lot of the time it can come off as an awkwardly constructed dive into exploitation cinema that relies far too much on its deliberate shoddiness to provoke laughter.
Your patience for Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway will largely depend on how much you’re willing to surrender yourself to its own special brand of bizarre. It is undoubtedly original and unique, with a sense of abandon to the proceedings that will undoubtedly be enough for those looking for something that’s running to the tune of its own beat. But for some, that desire to be as weird as possible will prove to be a gag that can’t last, as the film ends up being more tedious than entertaining, disorientating in a manner that doesn’t prove to be all that enjoyable to sit through. Sorry, Jesus.
Dir: Miguel Llansó
Scr: Miguel Llansó
Cast: Daniel Tadesse, Guillermo Llansó, Agustín Mateo, Gerda-Annette Allikas, Solomon Tashe, Lauri Lagle, Rene Köster, Iveta Pole, Aris Rozentals, Jaanika Arum
Prd: Mesereta Argaw, Liis Nimik, Kristjan Pütsep, Israel Seoane
DOP: Michal Babinec, Erik Põllumaa, Israel Seoane
Music: Atomizador, Bill Dixon, Grosgoroth
Run time: 83 mins
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is available on demand on the Arrow Video Channel.