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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE OPEN ROAD -- DVD review by porfle

The DVD cover, with a smirking Jeff Bridges and a dweeby-looking Justin Timberlake, makes this look like one of the worst movies ever made, but THE OPEN ROAD (2009) is actually pretty good. This old-fashioned road picture starts out slow and then, surprisingly, it stays slow, but if you settle in and let it grow on you, you'll probably start to like it.

Justin Timberlake is no Luke Perry but he's not bad as Carlton Garrett, a minor-league baseball player who really wants to be a writer but is following in the footsteps of his famous dad, Kyle "Lonestar" Garrett (Jeff Bridges). When Carlton's mom, Katherine (Mary Steenburgen), suddenly needs open-heart surgery, she refuses to go under the knife until her estranged husband Lonestar is at her side for good luck. So Carlton, along with his should-be girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara), goes to a baseball convention in Ohio to fetch him back home to Texas.

The irresponsible Lonestar proves to be a handful, however, and it's hard to get him to commit to anything including actually reaching their destination. During the long, tension-filled road trip (they don't take a plane because--well, it doesn't matter), father and son hash out their differences while Carlton and Lucy sort out the reasons for their non-relationship. It's one of those journeys of discovery you've always heard tell about, and by the time they've taken the circuitous route down to Texas they've had themselves a heap of dramatic confrontations, revelations, and overdue realizations.

If you have to see Justin Timberlake in a movie, it's nice to see him playing a real person, which he does a pretty good job of simulating. In fact, his performance is very nicely low-key and restrained. Kate Mara is very sweet and likable as Lucy and we want to kick Carlton for neglecting her all those years and taking her for granted. Jeff Bridges, of course, could play gruff-but-lovable in his sleep by now, just as Mary Steenburgen can get by simply by dialing up that glowing, crinkly-eyed smile and syrupy voice.

It's nice seeing Harry Dean Stanton pop up all-too-briefly as Carlton's grandfather. Also look for Lyle Lovett as the bartender at the Peabody Hotel and Ted Danson in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as the manager of Carlton's baseball team. (Danson only has a few lines and, since they're never in the same shot together, it's possible he and Timberlake weren't even in the same vicinity at the time.)

Bridges keeps things amusing with his gregarious and irresponsible character, constantly telling stories and lighting up whenever he's recognized by a fan (usually in a bar). His clashes with the nervous and irritable Carlton during the trip generate some interesting drama although thankfully it's never allowed to get mushy or maudlin. The same goes for Carlton and Lucy's tentative overtures toward each other, which are played with just the right touch of restraint.

When one of the characters does fly off the handle or get emotional, the screenwriter never goes for bathos or cheap sentiment. Thus, the more dramatic twists and turns in the story are easy to take. By the same token, although we get a steady succession of amusing lines and dialogue exchanges involving Bridges' character, nothing's ever played for cheap laughs and there are no blatant attempts at comedy. The story is firmly rooted in reality at all times and is all the more interesting for it.

As director, Michael Meredith gets the job done without drawing attention to himself. He's interested in telling the story well, not impressing us with his artistry. Natural southern locations are well utilized and nicely photographed. The score by Charlie Sexton compliments the action and is augmented by some well-chosen songs.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby surround 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a commentary with writer-director Michael Meredith and Jeff Bridges, a brief making-of featurette, and trailers.

I thought I would hate this movie but it's surprisingly watchable. Neither a heavy drama nor a silly comedy, THE OPEN ROAD is a pleasantly entertaining odyssey in which a dysfunctional father and son, forced to get to know each other again, learn to become a little more functional.

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