Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Absurd, Outrageous, and Ingeniously Bonkers
Taking place in 2043 and/or 1997, Jesus Takes You to the Highway is an Ethiopian action sci-fi epic that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in mainstream cinema. CIA Agents D.T. Gagano and Palmer Eldritch use VR in order to eliminate a computer virus known as Soviet Union, but Gagano gets trapped inside and Palmer is secretly sleeping with Gagano’s girlfriend Malin.
The VR sequences in Jesus Takes You to the Highway are like live-action stop-motion sequences. Film frames are purposely sped up or removed to make it appear like a computer glitch. The CIA agents and even Soviet Union wear paper masks over a skin tight black material that covers their faces; Soviet Union wears Russian political figure masks while CIA agents wear celebrity masks (Gagano looks to be Richard Pryor and Palmer appears to be Steve McQueen). When they talk, their mask mouths move similar to Canadians like Terrence and Phillip on South Park.
The president is known as Batfro, a man dressed like Batman from the 1960s with the Batman symbol blurred out. He is very clearly played by two different actors; a more athletic and capable actor for the fight scenes and a more out of shape actor for the dramatic sequences. He is addicted to cocaine, likes having his feet licked, and sometimes knows kung fu. He is working with a man named Mr. Sophistication who hires three kung fu masters named Spaghetti, Ravioli, and Balthazar. They look like generic imitations of Thunder, Rain, and Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China.
Malin dreams of opening her own kickboxing academy while Gagano only cares about retiring from the CIA and opening his own pizza place. Palmer half-cares about his partner, but mostly only wants to seduce Malin. Gagano’s character arc is bizarre. After getting trapped in the virtual world, he becomes somewhat immortal and is believed to be a prophesied prince that has the power to save everyone imprisoned by Soviet Union.
He’s eventually hunted down by two human-sized fly assassins that shoot lasers from their mouths and hands. Gagano is able to defeat one of them with the assistance of Palmer, but the fly is revealed to be a stoned out rocker who is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ named Roy Mascarone. There is a new drug (that is literally just green Jell-O) that Roy claims will have Gagano wake up in the year 1997 where the two of them are actually lying in a medical testing facility. Roy’s fly suit is also filled with candy that is treated like the red and blue pills from The Matrix. Gagano’s consciousness is eventually inserted into a portable black and white TV set where he’s thrown off a building and saved by a parachuting and cheeseburger-consuming drag queen.
This film is pure, uncut insanity. It has a mix of everything with action, comedy, and sci-fi elements lifted straight out of the likes of Blade Runner and homage to popular video game fighters like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Its violence is rather tame, but there’s quite a bit of nudity, sex, and its fair share of F-bombs and drug use. It’s also interesting that the main character is a dwarf with obvious back issues and the main love interest is a fairly voluptuous woman. This is my first Ethiopian film, so maybe they’re known for being this absurd and outrageous but it’s also cool to see a film that breaks familiar tropes associated with filmmaking.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is only the second film of writer and director Miguel Llansó. Llansó already has a style that is reminiscent of Quentin Dupieux with an attention to the ridiculous and an execution that is borderline brilliant. Even their beginnings seem somewhat similar with the French Dupieux making his third feature, Rubber, for around $500,000 and the Spanish Llansó making Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway for $450,000. This is the type of cinematic lunacy that has to be seen to be believed. You should absolutely check it out.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway claims to exclusively be streaming on the Arrow Video Channel (which is available through Apple TV for US customers), but it also looks to be available to rent ($3.99 for SD and $4.99 for HD) and purchase ($9.99 for SD and $14.99 for HD) on YouTube and Google Play.
© 2020 Chris Sawin