Roadside Prophets (1992) - Moto Movie Review
I first saw this modern day homage to Easy Rider when it came out in 1992. Its story of the sudden death of a friend as the catalyst for an impromptu, open-ended motorcycle tour resonated with me after Jim's sudden death last week. Here's the trailer on YouTube.
This movie stars John Doe from the band X as Joe Moseley, and Adam Horowitz from the Beastie Boys as Sam, and was written and directed by Abbe Wool, who wrote Sid and Nancy. Needless to say, this movie has a loose, rock 'n' roll feel to it that suits the story. The characters ride together around the Nevada desert, each on his own quest, without much of an idea of exactly where they are going or why.
It all starts at a factory at quitting time, with worn out old biker Joe taking notice of a sweet new bike in the parking lot. It belongs to a new, young employee, Dave, and they ride out to a bar to hang and talk Harleys. With the friendship only a few hours old, Dave dies in a bizarre video game accident. Joe then sets off with Dave's ashes in a Harley gas tank, looking for a place in Nevada that Dave had mentioned just before dying.
Sam, the Beastie Boy, could best be described as a hobo, wandering the earth like Caine in "Kung-Fu." He is kind of like that eager puppy dog in the cartoons, jumping around the bulldog, and he just sort of latches on to Joe's quest because he is bored with his own. But, first he has to get himself a bike, and he scores a pretty sweet one. Supposedly a 1972 Triumph Bonneville 750, it actually appears to be a mishmash of parts with a disc brake. It is not cherry at all, but it captures that first bike excitement perfectly.
Speaking of Caine in "Kung-Fu," David Carradine is just one of the characters they run into that passes along worldly wisdom. These are the prophets from the title. Also included in there are Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie and John Cusack.
Abbe Wool has worked with Alex Cox quite a few times, and this movie has some of the same magical reality as Repo Man. The whole theme of the trip seems to be that the world, and everyone in it, only appears normal on the surface, but is a lot weirder if you get to know it/them. Perhaps the weirdest is the intellectual exotic dancer Labia Mirage (Jennifer Balgobin), who is working her way to the Yukon, but takes some time out for a fling with Joe. You may recognize her as Debbie, the punk girl who wanted to do some crimes in Repo Man, or the unnamed biker girl in Weird Science.
The weirdest scene is an all-biker golf tournament in the middle of the desert, brought on by a crash and a bump on the head. As you may have noticed from the pictures, this is not a picture that believes in all the gear all the time. In fact, on at least one occasion, someone actually says loudly, "Helmets are bullsh!t!" So, best not to watch it while young children or impressionable squids are around.
Rotten Tomato Rating: 83% from 6 critics, 63% among audience ratings.
RideApart Worth Watching: Yes, I rate it about a 7.5 out of 10. It has a bittersweet tone, but with enough laughs and insight to make you feel better by the end. Enjoy it with a cold beverage when it is too hot out to ride.
Redeeming Quality: This film was never a hit in the 1990s, but for me, at least, it is pure 1990s nostalgia. The Reagan years were over, the Cold War was over, it was OK to embrace 1960s ideals and icons again, and it was suddenly OK to be a little weird. Remember back to a time when you could buy a running complete 1970s Triumph Bonneville for less than $1,000 – a time before cell phones and Google Maps.
Worth Noting: John Cusack plays what may be the last remaining member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group the kidnapped Patty Hearst. Back in the day the SLA had demanded free food be distributed to the poor in exchange for Patty's release. These days, he fights the good fight by eating as much as possible at restaurants, declaring "Free food for the poor!" and running off without paying. He claims to be trying to set a world record to raise awareness. One of the waiters that gets stiffed by this radical dine and dasher is non other than a teenaged Don Cheadle.
It appears the after this movie Abbe Wool just couldn't find anyone to finance another one. Between writing/directing this, and writing Sid and Nancy, she certainly proved herself a interesting screenwriter, and competent director, but now appears to be working as a grip or an electrician. Maybe she just hasn't had any inspiring ideas for another project? Perhaps showing the bias of Wikipedia, she does not have an entry, though she is mentioned (as screenwriter/electrician) in her brother, composer Dan Wool's page. He does the score for this film, along with his group Pray for Rain.
I'm always looking for new movie, book and other motorcycle pop culture to consume, so drop us a line of you have some suggestions.