Rating: 3 out of 5.

Anchored by a captivating, intense performance from Jacob Elordi, He Went That Way is a strange crime comedy based “mostly” on the true story of a traveling chimpanzee. Director Jeff Darling passed away shortly after filming wrapped, making the movie an understandably somber affair for all involved. That said, Darling would definitely be proud of the final product. While its clashing tones don’t always work, He Went That Way harkens back to the yesteryear of buddy comedy team-ups, all with the backdrop of a dazzlingly beautiful sun-soaked road trip.

Set in the summer of 1964, the film is narrated only when necessary, and deals with the unexpected baggage that picking up a hitchhiker brings. Jim (Zachary Quinto) is traveling across the infamous Route 66 to Chicago with famous chimpanzee Spanky in tow. The backdrop of Vietnam and constant death looming in the air gives He Went That Way a puzzling atmosphere of discontent. Jim’s crappy car gets a rush job, and it is at this very gas station out in Death Valley, California, where he first meets Bobby (Elordi). Bobby’s aggressive attempts to hitch a ride seem futile. Out of the kindness of his heart, Jim offers to take Bobby as far east as he is going. Jim promises he is not a “sick fuck,” but can the same be said for Bobby?

As we discover in carefully interspersed flashbacks, Bobby is actually a psychotic serial killer with a penchant for tying up men and shooting them in the head. To Jim, he answers but a few small questions. Bobby has been discharged from the Air Force, and now he just wants to stay “experiencing America.” When Bobby finds Jim’s secret cargo in the back, everything about his demeanor completely changes. Spanky the chimpanzee becomes the glue that holds Jim and Bobby together. More than that, it may be the one reason that Bobby doesn’t instantly kill Jim.

Quinto’s straight-laced accent for Jim clashes wonderfully against Elordi’s swagger and complex persona as Bobby. They are a perfect foil for one another. Throw in a cute as hell chimpanzee, and it is an obvious recipe for success. Bobby seems to have a cigarette in his mouth at all times, or sucking the edges of his fingertips to satisfy an oral fixation. On the flip side, Jim appears meticulous and almost clinical in how he approaches any given situation. Both actors are excellent even when the material becomes a bit murky.

A quick detour involving Jim’s priestly brother-in-law (Patrick J. Adams) goes nowhere fast, and there are multiple times when the movie builds to an exciting confrontation without payoff. He Went That Way is more of an oddball character study than a straightforward narrative title. As Bobby helps Jim become more “Mr. Fun” than “Mr. Tight Ass,” so too does Jim pull Bobby out of his shell. Jim lets the nineteen-year-old drifter open to him in a way no one ever seems to have done before by simply listening. He also adds an essential new item to Bobby’s wardrobe, an adorable cardigan, while shattering Bobby’s own views on cologne being strictly “for queers.” Elordi’s visage looks perfectly chiseled, accompanied by neon lighting and rich landscapes.

While I am not sure He Went That Way is a complete home run, I will certainly never forget the way it made me feel. The ending solidifies Spanky as an indie cinema darling, with the credits doubling down on the surprising true story element. When Elordi’s intense performance meets the script’s surreal qualities, He Went That Way is at its best. It is not at all surprising that Jim finds more comfort in creatures than in people!

He Went That Way screened at 2023’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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