High Road
Millennium Entertainment // R // $29.99 // March 6, 2012
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 19, 2012
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"I guess I don't have to say 'bomb' if I just said 'abortion'."

Wait! That's just a line from the movie, not me railing into High Road or anything. I mean, I guess I was kinda disappointed, but it's
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nothing like that. See, I kind of love the Upright Citizens Brigrade beyond all comprehension, so when you tell me that UCB founding member Matt Walsh directed a completely improvised comedy with Rich Fulcher, Ed Helms, Abby Elliott, Lizzy Caplan, Andrew Daly, Kyle Gass, Rob Riggle, Joe Lo Truglio, Joe Nunez, Zach Woods, Matt L. Jones, Seth Morris, and -- I'm almost done! -- Horatio Sanz, then, yeah, you've got my fifteen bucks or whatever. Even if those names don't mean anything to you, it'll absolutely be an "oh, that guy!" sort of thing when they're in front of the camera. So, High Road on paper looks like it's kind of the best thing ever, but even with all of that staggering amount of talent, it's...not...really that funny.

Don't get thrown off by the cover art, though. Whoever Photoshopped that sucker together grabbed the most baked looking headshots he could find to play up the whole marijuana angle, but High Road really isn't a stoner flick. Pot is actually out of the way pretty quickly. The deal is that Fitz (James F. Pumphrey) is kind of a drug dealer in denial. He just thinks of himself as a guy who really, really likes weed, and when someone he knows wants to score some, he helps 'em out. When the band he's in splits up, Fitz doesn't have a whole lot to fall back on. His live-in girlfriend Monica (Abby Elliott) starts rising through the ranks of the local NBC affiliate or whatever, and Fitz...well, doesn't? When he thinks the cops are coming after him for cold-cocking a pedophile with a cowbell (long story), Fitz dumps every last bit of his pot in the dumpster and makes a beeline to reconnect with his estranged pop in Oakland. Before he can make it out of the driveway, the kid from next door hops into the passenger seat. Jimmy (Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien) says he's got to get to Oakland too because he's being stalked by a pervert because his father beats him because that's where his mom lives because. So...hey! Road movie. Not too far behind are Monica and the bombshell she's about to drop, Jimmy's totally not abusive dad (Rob Riggle), and an overzealous not-really-a-cop (Joe Lo Truglio) who thinks he's aiming his itchy trigger-finger at a kidnapper.

High Road kind of feels like a producer somewhere was
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stuck with the script for some shitball indie drama that bombed out of a Sundance screenwriting workshop, so he lined up a half-battalion of really great comedians to riff their way through it and pass the whole thing off as a comedy. The underlying skeleton of a story is a really straightforward journey into adulthood sort of thing about family and responsibility and acceptance and feelings. High Road isn't afraid to heap on the schmaltz either with lots of fatherhood stuff and dead mama drama. That sentimentality comes across as contrived and unearned, so it's really tough to feel engaged by the premise that's duct-taping the flick together. But...whatever, you can look past a paint-by-numbers story like that if you get to pal around with a bunch of really compelling characters along the way, right? Well, no. Not here, at least. For the characters who aren't just one-or-two-note jokes, High Road gives them some kind of crisis, some kind of quirk, and some place to get to. Nothing more to 'em than that. The cast is so gosh-darn likeable that the movie's able to effortlessly coast on their charms, but I have to admit to not giving much of a shit about anything that was happening or anyone it was happening to.

...and around here you really think I'm missing the point. It's a road movie! Obviously a bunch of crazy shit happens on the way upstate, right? It's a comedy! Stop droning on about the craft of filmmaking or whatever and tell me if it's funny. Again, no...not exactly. Its sense of humor is very dry and understated, as you'd probably expect from a lot of these comedians who aren't so much the type to mug at the camera. There's a White Stripes tribute band where the joke pretty much begins and ends with "hey, we're a White Stripes tribute band!" Fitz has spent a couple of months writing an unlistenable rock opera that we never get to hear and no one really talks about. An awfully rude hooker calls Fitz a faggot kind of a lot. He pukes up a bunch of nicotine gum at one point. You get a run through Gary Glitter's kiddie-diddling travel itinerary. A dumpy guy in drag starts air-humping nothing in particular on a karaoke stage. There are runners about sandwich diplomacy and a pot-addled triangle theory that any three things in the universe are somehow connected. They're all things that...I don't know, could go somewhere and could be funny but never really are. I don't want to make it sound like High Road is one desperate swing-and-a-miss after another because it's not. I wasn't cringing and groaning or anything at its sense of humor. It's just one of those things where I politely watched the movie with wide eyes and a quarter-of-a-grin for eightysomething minutes, and that was it. Wasn't good enough to ever make me laugh and wasn't bad enough to make me do whatever the opposite of that is. It's just kind of there. I really hate having to write all of this because I'm such a frothing-at-the-mouth fan of so much of the talent on both sides of the camera here, but High Road is kind of an argument against totally improvised comedies. Rent It.

High Road really isn't aiming for something lush and sweepingly cinematic or whatever, so keep your expectations in check, but it still looks alright in high-def. The photography has a super-digital,
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prosumer video-type look to it, and that really isn't my thing so much, but this HD presentation is still pretty sharp and detailed. Colors can be kind of muted at times but generally come through well enough. Sometimes I'd spot a little aliasing or distortion, such as the edges of the Pete Rose poster in Jimmy's bedroom, but nothing that's really all that distracting. High Road isn't the sort of movie you'd grab off the shelf to show off your overpriced TV to the neighbors or anything, but I'm sure it reflects the way the movie was originally shot, and it's a heckuva lot better looking than anything a DVD could deliver.

High Road is served up on a single-layer Blu-ray disc. The video's been encoded with AVC and is presented without any matting at High Road's original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Not too much to say about High Road's 16-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack other than having forgotten that TrueHD is still a thing. The recording of the dialogue can be a little spotty, and there's some clipping every once in a while, but all of that generally come through alright. The music scattered throughout High Road is really clean and clear, responsible for pretty much everything going on with the subwoofer and surround channels. Nothing astonishing or whatever but just about exactly what it oughtta be.

Also included is a Dolby Digital stereo (256kbps) track. Subtitles are dished out in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Cast and Crew Interviews (15 min.; HD): This reel piles on a gaggle of online-viral-type interviews with Horatio
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    Sanz, James F. Pumphrey, Joe Lo Truglio, and Lizzy Caplan. Kinda goes without saying that these are really quippy and improv-vy too, tearing off on riffs with mouthfuls of Twizzlers and a whole glass-of-water ordeal. Not that anyone's keeping score or anything, but Joe Lo Truglio wins.

...and, yeah, that's it, at least unless you count a bunch of trailers for other Millennium flicks.

The Final Word
I really like Matt Walsh and I really like the cast he's put together for High Road, but kinda like Martin & Orloff before it, this one just...doesn't really come together for me. High Road is basically one of those indie bonding-road-trip-type dramas that makes the rounds at all the regional film festivals, just with an understatedly dry absurdist streak and...okay, just about every awesome comedic character actor you can think of. I mean, it's okay -- way better than the generic stoner flick the cover art makes High Road out to be -- and I'm not gonna pretend I was cringing in horror on my couch or whatever. High Road is likeable enough but hardly ever scores much of a laugh. Worth renting if you're a card-carrying fan of any of the small army of comedians in this thing, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it as a blind buy, especially since the sticker price online is way higher than it ought to be. Rent It.

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