Movie Review: The Neon Highway

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — More than 30 years in the making, the movie The Neon Highway debuted on the silver screen this last week in Nashville. Originally written by Phillip Bellury and directed by William Wages for the likes of Johnny Cash, the deal never worked out. They say everything happens for a reason: Beau Bridges was meant to play Claude Allen, and Rob Mayes was meant to play Wayne Collins.

Here is a synopsis of the plot: 20 years ago, Collins, played by Mayes, an aspiring singer/songwriter, was a heartbeat away from making it in Nashville when a car accident derailed his ambitions. Now working a 9-5 job and struggling to support his family, Collins has a fateful encounter with waning country music great Allen, played by Bridges, who reignites Allen’s musical dreams. Together, they go to Nashville with one of Collins’ songs, believing they can make it big with Allen’s fame and contacts. The problem is the industry has changed and no one is interested in the song – or Allen. Devastated and out of options, Collins creates a way to get the song out to the public; not for himself, but for Allen.

The thing that attracted me to this movie as an entertainment writer is that even though the plotline and characters are fictional, there is so much truth in the story. Bridges is as magnificent an actor as you would think a Golden Globe winner would be, but Mayes brings credibility to Collins’ character. Even though he is a highly accomplished actor, he is also a singer/songwriter who now lives in Nashville. He has been in the writing rooms and recording studios alongside many other up-and-coming aspiring country artists.

Collins’ role was made for him. He said, “You know I’ve been acting for a long time, and you know us as actors, we look for different roles, and kind of at the end of the day, we look for roles that will just have us. I don’t want to just be doing a whole bunch of different TV shows, movies, and stuff that had no throughline. It became important to me I realized you know that I kind of solidified my brand and I thought, “Well, what means the most to me?’ It’s like, ‘Well, music, hope, redemption.’ And if I could you know mesh those three things and tell the stories of hope and redemption through my music and my film and TV, you know that’s a pretty special intersection.”

The Neon Highway checks all those boxes and more. All the people playing instruments and singing backup are real musicians. Actor Chuck Mead told me that any songs that are in the movie were recorded live on the set, not in some studio beforehand. Nothing is faked or overdubbed.

In The Neon Highway, Mayes not only shines as an actor but also showcases his musical talents, performing two songs: “Dirt In My Life” (written by Chris Janson, Dallas Davidson, & Tommy Cecil, slated for release March 22nd) and the original “My Heart Is Bleeding.” These tracks, along with the title song “The Neon Highway,” are part of the much-anticipated soundtrack to the movie. Curb recording artist Lee Brice plays country singer Lamont Johnson; you hear his voice singing the title track.

I also want to shout out to Sam Hennings, who plays Ray, and Sandra Lee-Oian Thomas, who plays his sister, Pepper. They were completely believable as Allen’s past mates and helped flesh out Allen’s storied past. Jennifer Boyles convincingly plays Collins’ apprehensive wife, Ginny.

Even though I had a good idea what The Neon Highway would be about, I couldn’t figure out how they would get the song released when it appeared that everyone slammed the door in their faces. The ending was clever, but you’ll have to watch it to find out how it happens. Because of the story, music, and talent, The Neon Highway should hit streaming services soon.

The Neon Highway is available starting Friday in select theaters.

Click here to see if the movie is playing near you.

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blogInstagram, and X(Twitter).





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