Highway 61 (1991)

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In the dark comedy/road movie Highway 61, small-town barber (and sometime musician) Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) seems to be content with his life. Then he finds a dead body in his backyard. Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), a rock band roadie, sees a picture of the dead body in the newspaper and decides to pay Pokey a visit. While Pokey dyes her blonde hair red, Jackie tells him that the dead body is her brother Jeffrey, and she has to get him back to the States, New Orleans to be exact, to bury him.

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Pokey then realizes he’s up for some adventure, and he decides to drive Jackie and her dead brother to New Orleans. However, unbeknownst to Pokey, Jeffrey is not Jackie’s brother. She’s using the corpse to transport drugs back to the States. Still, the naïve Pokey is drawn to the seen-it-all Jackie, and he puts the corpse into a makeshift coffin and straps it to the top of his car. It’s New Orleans or bust!!!

During their journey, most people are vaguely intrigued by the coffin on Pokey’s car. You can always seen odd things while traveling in America. One of the people along the way, is a father trying to make stars out of his weirdly-talking daughters who dance like in a stilted, robotic style. A dead man on the roof of somebody’s car? Who cares? Stardom awaits for this man’s brood.

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But what else awaits? Could it be Satan? Among the group of ragtag characters is Mr. Skin (Earl Patsko) who is basically the devil in the disguise of a sleazy, polyester-wearing huckster. Mr. Skin is buying souls on his journey through America. And just how much is a soul? At times, a bottle of whiskey will suffice. People are cheap. While tempting them to sell their souls, Mr. Skin takes cheap Polaroids of them, and then uses these shots to do not so nice acts on the victims.

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Pokey may be naïve, but he isn’t dumb. And he begins to figure out that something is up with Jackie and her dead non-brother. But due to his growing attraction to Jackie, and his new found love of America, Pokey sets his reservations aside. He’s finally connecting with places he could only read about in a small-town Canada. It’s time to break the shackles and get wild!! And Pokey and Jackie act on their attraction while enjoying their travels.

In this immensely likable and entertaining film, the American south is used to show the type of oddball characters you probably won’t find in a travel brochure. Don McKellar (who also wrote the screenplay) is sweetly dorkish as Pokey Jones, and Jackie Buhagiar is spot-on as a cynical  roadie. And Earl Patsko nearly steals the show as the devilish Mr. Skin. The movie also uses both irreverent conversations and peculiar observations that will ring true to anyone who has taken a road trip. Highway 61 is wacky, funny and real, and just might inspire you to fill up the car and hit the road…minus a dead body and the Devil, of course.

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