Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
March 21, 2013
*1/2 (out of four)
Perhaps the sight of Bella—er, Kristen Stewart—in the buff will attract people to “On the Road.” Or they’ll flock to it merely because they're curious to see how Jack Kerouac’s self-indulgent 1957 novel translates to the screen.
Answer: It can’t, and it doesn’t. Sure, the “Motorcycle Diaries” pair of director Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera gets the story going faster than Kerouac. Then they take it nowhere. Sal (Sam Riley) immediately admires Dean (Garrett Hedlund) and supposedly they become great friends, but never does this seem like a two-way relationship. What does Dean get out of it? The two share more tight embraces than actual experiences to strengthen the bond, and Dean barely even registers Sal’s presence as the lone person who doesn’t blink while Dean reveals his womanizing, irresponsible ways with both his first wife (Stewart) and second (Kirsten Dunst). In fact, in an unnecessary voiceover at the film’s beginning, Sal notes that he knows Dean’s conning him, and Dean knows he knows, but the agenda of the con is anyone’s guess.
Merely incorporating jazz music isn’t enough to capture the spirit of the beat generation or the journey. Sal’s a cold fish, and “On the Road” is a square, man, never alive with desire or creativity or the impulsiveness of youth. Sure, there’s freewheeling sex and sexuality, and everyone gets some, but each relationship stalls. Characters talk about drug-induced, open communication but we see neither that transparency nor the reason for numerous suicide attempts. The adventure on the road even pales in comparison to “The Guilt Trip.”
Perhaps if I were able to get through more than 20 pages of Kerouac’s book I’d find a moving story of young men searching for purpose and their fathers, or at least someone to take their paternal place. Incorporating several familiar faces (including Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard, Alice Braga and Elizabeth Moss) in thankless roles, the inattentive “On the Road” comes off as the early days of douchebaggery in the aimless tale of a guy in love with the sound of his own voice.
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