Filmmaker Abbe Wool made her feature film debut as a screenwriter with her 1986 chronicle on the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious with Sid and Nancy. And she made her directing debut on this troubled production — her only directing effort (which she also wrote) — a reimaging of Easy Rider starring John Doe of X — in one of his few leading man roles (see A Matter of Degrees) — and Adam “King Ad Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
According to an October 1991 Los Angeles Times report on the troubled production, it’s learned the film did not start with Abbe Wool, but with aspiring, first-time filmmakers Bill Henderson and James Whitney. The duo planned to co-direct their ’80s updating (as with the later Me and Will and Easy Rider: The Ride Back) of the ’60s counterculture classic — a film that transitioned Jack Nicholson from television (he did an Andy Griffith episode!) into a film career.
Then the writing-directing duo had a fallout with their longtime friend David Swinson, an ex-concert promoter who served as the project’s producer. To hear Henderson tell it, Swinson sold out him and Whitney by making a deal with New Line Cinema. And, with that, the intimate, low-budget indie the first time writer-directors wanted to make as an industry calling card became a bloated $3 million dollar project. Wool was given the green light as result of her track record in bringing Sid and Nancy to the screen — a film that brought British actor Gary Oldman his first widespread acclaim.
While the critical reviews were mixed and the film flopped in both theaters and on home video — and was, in fact, hard to find on home video — Roadside Prophets earned cult status as result of its incessant cable airings in the grungy ’90s (yeah, this is Over the Edge all over again).
Yeah, I love this movie. How can you not love a flick with John Cusack going el loco with an eye patch? Then again, I enjoyed — and everyone else hated — what Melissa Behr and Phil Pitzer did with their respective counterculture updates, so what do I know?
Joe Mosley (John Doe) is a Harley-riding factory worker whose slightly-tweaked friend Dave (David Anthony Marshall; Willie Hickok in Another 48 Hours) tells him about a can’t-loose casino in the town of El Dorado — just before Dave is electrocuted in a video arcade. After honoring Dave’s wishes to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the desert (as in another of my road-flick favorites, 2003’s Grand Theft Parsons), Joe decides to stay on the road and find Dave’s mystical, Nevada casino. Along the way, Joe meets Sam (Horovitz), an eclectic free-spirit traveling America’s back roads to find the Motel 9 where his parents committed suicide (plot spoiler: Sam may be Dave’s ghost).
Along the way, the ’60s retro-counterculture duo meet a diverse cast of characters — the “roadside prophets” — comprised of the diverse cast of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Suburbia), ’60s icons Arlo Guthrie and Timothy Leary, David Carradine (Night Rhythms), an eye-patched John Cusack, Sam Raimi cohort Aaron Lustig (Bad Channels), Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day!), and a very early-in-their careers Done Cheadle (War Machine in the Iron Man franchise!) and Lin Shayne (the Insidious and Ouija franchises!).
In addition to his work as a leading man, John Doe also scored the film, while the soundtrack features solo tunes from his ex-wife Exene Cervenka (we’re reviewing her work in Salvation! this week, look for it), the Beastie Boys, the Pogues, Pray for Rain, Gary U.S. Bonds, and tunes collectively written and performed by members of X and the Blasters. And yes . . . that’s David Carradine performing the song “Divining Rod” that he also wrote. And that’s Harry Dean Stanton crooning “Make Yourself at Home.”
Wool eventually left the director’s chair and word processors for a successful behind-the-camera career as a camera electrician on films such as The Big Lebowski, Space Cowboys, Charlie’s Angels, and Planet of the Apes ’01. (Be sure to check out out Planet of the Apes tribute week of sequels, remakes, and ripoffs.)