"Powwow Highway" is much more mainstream in style than the usual fare among experimental independents.
But in the end that's what makes the film less successful than it might otherwise be. Halfway through it begins to look like dozens of other so-called road movies, and the ending is irritatingly hackneyed.
Still, "Powwow Highway" is entertaining much of the way, particularly in the first half, as we meet Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez) and Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer), the film's main protagonists.
They are members of the Northern Cheyenne tribe on a reservation in Montana. Buddy is something of a rebel, an activist who is encouraging the tribal council to oppose a land-grabbing scheme. But when his sister is jailed in Santa Fe, he has to go bail her out - not realizing she's the victim of a ploy to get him off the reservation during this controversy.
To get to Santa Fe, Buddy teams up with Philbert, a slow-witted but gentle-natured mountain of a man who seems to believe in magic and is rooted in the ancient traditions of his tribe. Philbert calls his 1964 Buick "Protector" and treats it like a pony. Buddy, on the other hand, is more hip, trying to be a politically aware member of modern society.
The chemistry between Martinez and Farmer, and especially Farmer's endearing performance, are what make the film work at all, and they are at times great fun together, blending comedy and drama - though in the end it's not enough to entirely rescue the picture.
"Powwow Highway" is rated R mainly for profanity, though there is also some violence, male nudity and marijuana use.