Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Route 666 (USA, 2002)

(Spoilers.) OK, we'll admit it: the only reason why watched Route 666 is because many, many years ago, when we were but a young spud — so long before this flick was even made — we sort of found Lou Diamond Phillips hunkadelic. So when we stumbled upon this obscure flick, which also heralds the eternally eccentric Lori Petty (of Tank Girl [1995]) as co-star, we figured it might be worthwhile to catch a gander of the kind of flick two interesting thespians make when their respective careers have landed firmly in a slump.*
* Although, in truth, even if their projects might not be as notable as the ones that initially brought them fame — La Bamba (1987 / trailer) and A League of Their Own (1992 / trailer), respectively — as both have remained in steady employment since they first entered the biz, and neither has suffered an unending nadir like that of someone like, say, Richard Grieco (Webs [2003 / scene in Spanish] and Raiders of the Damned [2005 / trailer]), perhaps it is unjust to say their careers were ever truly in a slump. 
Contrary to what one might think, considering how tainted the number 666 is in the Western world, there have been and are a variety of Route 666s in the US. (There is even a Route 13 out there, but we'll skip that tangent.) The Route 666 of this movie, however, is clearly derived from what is now Route 491 (it was renamed in 2003), a north-south US highway that originally started at a turnoff on Route 66 in Gallup, NM, and enjoyed the nickname of "Devil's Highway" due to its numeration and the supposed (former) high fatality rate of certain segments. In the movie, however, Route 666 is an old, condemned highway running more-or-less parallel to Route 66 that the characters end up taking as an out-of-the-way shortcut to California.
And why do they need the shortcut? Well, though a horror film, Route 666 also utilizes the tropes of the traditional action film: the basic plot involves a group of government agents that capture a government witness on the run, Fred "Rabbit" Smith (Steven Williams), and to get him to court on time and alive — there are hitmen at work — they take the forgotten by-way, whereupon the flick goes horror and they are confronted not only by the killer ghosts of four murdered chain-gang convicts, but kill-happy police officers led by the one who killed the convicts in the first place (character actor L.Q. Jones of The Brotherhood of Satan [1971 / trailer] and The Beast Within [1982 / trailer]) as Sheriff Bob Conaway).
If you get down to it, it is easy to understand why director/screenwriter William Wesley (born Jose Rolando Rodriguez) hasn't been the most active of filmmakers. He seems to be a one trick pony, and his trick isn't all that memorable. Route 666, his second and at the moment still last project, made 13 years after his first, Scarecrows (1998 / trailer), is basically a rehash of his first film in a new setting. (In Scarecrows, you have criminals caught in a graveyard surrounded by killer scarecrows, while in Route 666 you have 7 marshals & a smart-mouthed criminal trapped on a road haunted by killer convicts.) Unluckily, it is also in no way better.
Route 666 begins pleasantly enough, once you get through the oddly annoying and overly long credits sequence, in that the great Dick Miller (of The Terror [1963] and much, much more) appears for all of 5 minutes in the opening bar scene. He quickly disappears, and the movie goes downhill real quickly. The badly staged and shot shootout that soon follows is truly indicative of all that is to come: half-assed, nonsensical, and sort of dull. Aside from the fact that the whole scene is so typical of the typical movie shootouts in which hundreds of bullets fly as people run for cover and never get hit, the viewer is actually subjected to Agent La Roca [Phillips] suffering augural visions of the ghostly convicts — despite being miles from Route 666. (He gets a lot of visions along the way because — Well, wouldn't you just know it! — his long-lost daddy is one of the four undead.) And then the agents hit the road without a map and only an old tourist guide at hand for directions, which is how they end up on Route 666. (We can't help but wonder what kind of guidebook bothers to tell where condemned highways lead.)
To point out what's good in Route 666: Fred "Rabbit" Smith (Steven Williams of The Fear Chamber [2009 / trailer]) has a lot of good lines, including one meta-reference to The X-Files (1993-2002), whence most people know him; the acting is more than adequate, occasionally even good; aside from the opening shootout, the blood and violence ain't Miller Lite; the drive-in theater set is sort of groovy; and... and... and... OK, guess that was it.
In turn, if we were to point out every flaw of the flick, we'd have a novelette-length review here, so we'll keep to the main ones: Lori Petty is totally wasted and sometimes even looks lost; every time the chain gang attacks or violence hits, the cinematographer develops epilepsy and the camera jumps all over the place like a spastic sitting on a vibrator — not good; the editing gets a little confusing now and then, especially around the time the overweight shaman (Gary Farmer of Dead Man [1995 / trailer]) shows up; at one point in the movie, La Roca drinks peyote tea and basically stands up and walks away ready for action; La Roca actually says "Father" to one of the killer ghosts, who in turn becomes the deus ex machina that saves the butt of the final good guys; and — ah, shit: basically the whole story is all over the place, predictable but for one kill, doesn't hold any water at all, and falls apart by the end. Worse, it has no atmosphere — not even a sun-burnt one — and isn't even scary.
Over at imdb, William Wesley is quoted at saying "I like my horror real scary and I like to lose a lot of sleep when I see a horror film. It's a really hard thing to accomplish." The fact of the matter is, he didn't accomplish it in Route 666, which, in the end, is truly one of those films that justly deserve their obscurity. Totally unessential viewing, Route 666 makes it easy to understand why William Wesley has so few directorial projects to his name.

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