As a film critic, I see my fair share of unique movies. I can say without any qualification, that I have never seen anything quite like writer-director Miguel Llansó‘s Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway. The year is 2043. Two CIA Agents Palmer (Agustín Mateo) and Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) are tasked with removing a computer virus known as “Soviet Union” from the internet-like world of Psychobook while at the same time facing challenges to their loyalties that will test their alliances both professionally and personally. The usual spy hijinks, or spy-jinks, ensue with entrapments, double agents, romantic entanglements, a drag queen agent, and above all else, Jesus. Llansó‘s very specific vision that fuses 80’s Eurotrash cinema, 8-bit video game aesthetics, and meta-references had me asking, “How in the world did this get made?” along with, “I am so happy something like this got made!”
Our heroes Palmer and Gagano carry out their mission within the confines of a virtual reality world. Here everything moves in stop-motion and visitors where paper masks to hide their identity. The Soviet Union virus is planning a major viral attack that could bring the world to its knees. Meanwhile, in the real world, Agent Gagano hopes to finally retire in order to help his girlfriend Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas) fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a kickboxing academy. The only thing standing between Gagano and Malin finding happiness is a final secret mission that bounces in and out of virtual reality and through a web of shifty-eyed deceit.
Characters prance around in cheap practical costumes in a world that depends solely on the viewer’s ability to follow the story and suspend monumental amounts of disbelief. Characters speak in hyper-dramatic cold-war spy style and sport names like Mr. Sophistication and Batfro. Nearly every crime thriller/spy story trope is used too with kingpins lazing about in jacuzzis, broad line readings and intentionally horrific voice dubbing, and with all of it, the wink and nod to an audience that is in on the joke.
What I found to be so inspiring about this particular piece is the perfect pairing of an obviously low budget with uninhibited imagination. Here risks are taken, ideas used, most of which work, and casting choices are made that would never ever fly in a big studio project. Here we see that practical effects can tell a story as well as CGI. We see that an African-American actor with a disability CAN, in fact, play a secret agent hero. We learn the lesson that if you work to get the audience on your side, they will follow you through the most absurd plot imaginable and love every minute of it.
Hats off to Tadesse who takes the lead role and owns the hell out of it. Kudos to the fearless production design that went hard for a very particular look and somehow kept all the silly looks consistent. Most of all, we must praise writer-director Miguel Llansó for what is easily one of the strangest, most resourceful, inclusive, and absolutely bonkers movies we have seen in years. Jesus Shows You The Way To The Highway is a sort of low-fi retelling of The Matrix, but it took more risks than the Wachowskis ever did. This one is easily in the top 10 for 2020.
Finally, I share with you my favorite lines from the film…
“We were going to have children.”
“How? You’re a portable TV. Can’t you see?”
Rating: 7 out of 10 stars