Against the backdrop of imminent nuclear war with Russia, on a lonely stretch of road by a nuclear power plant there sits a quiet diner and gas station. In this James M. Cain environment the employees and passersby scheme and live out their lives. There is Otto (Dean Stockwell) is the proprietor, Lionel the hapless mechanic (Neil Young), Lionel’s buddy Fred (Russ Tamblyn), the chef (Dennis Hopper) and then there are those who operate the power plant (DEVO).
Human Highway (1982) is Neil Young’s Atomic age comedy produced at the same time that he was in his Trans phase (Young’s electronic album). The film is an aesthetic grab bag of ideas that combines different elements of the films of Mark Rappaport, Frank Zappa, and Bruce Connor. This is largely the result of the films unorthodox production which mirrors that of Hopper’s own Easy Rider (1969). Every actor involved has some sort of writing credit or they simply appear as multiple characters.
Human Highway isn’t a failure or even inaccessible because of its aesthetic variances; in fact that component of the film really works for it. Somehow Neil Young’s madcap comp works. Even at its weirdest moments the film is highly inventive and, more generally speaking, just a lot of fun. Young and Tamblyn have a surprising chemistry and both are totally committed to their cartoonish portrayals. Likewise DEVO, who function as a kind of Greek chorus, get a lot of mileage out of their music video segments.
Neil Young’s resources on this film were not wasted. It’s a highly stylized film that looks like nothing else. It’s truly unique that a recording artist would be able to make a film like Human Highway and get it released at all. It’s too bad Young and DEVO’s version of My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) was cut from Young’s own director’s cut. It was one of the highlights that was included in the 1995 VHS release.