Anchor Bay // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // November 27th, 2009
They've got a long way to go.
Despite dominance of the pop charts and reliably hilarious hosting duties on Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake can't crack the movie business. In fact, he barely registers a blip, as evidenced by his latest film's wildly unsuccessful box office. For those JT fans who haven't even heard of The Open Road, this Blu-ray release is your chance to see Timberlake's next project, after bringing sexy back.
Carlton Garrett (Timberlake) is a passionless minor league baseball player who doesn't seem to care that his poor performance is about to get him benched. What does shock Carlton out of his torpor is news that his mother (Mary Steenburgen, Time After Time) is needs a life-saving operation. However, she refuses to consent to the procedure unless her son can track down his estranged father, major league baseball legend Kyle Garrett (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski), and bring him to the hospital.
Reluctantly, Carlton locates his father, and with former girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara, Random Hearts) in tow, flies across the country to corral his old man and convince him to return with him for a mini family reunion.
The Open Road does not start well. It doesn't get much better in the middle. Then it fizzles out in the end. That said, the film isn't so much bad as terminally underwhelming.
The poor start is mostly attributed to the movie's nonsensical catalyst. Apparently, Carlton's mom is prepared to let herself to die from a correctable heart problem unless she's forcibly reunited with a rolling stone of an ex-husband, one who seems to have shown no interest in ever reconciling. Really? This woman has a son and father who love her, and she's willing to kill herself over a philandering ex-ballplayer? This is one of those plot devices that is so contrived you have to just accept it and move on, because there's no way you're going to make sense of it.
From here on out though, the movie is so staid and conventional you imagine your television is going to grow fungi. Yes, Kyle Garrett has been a neglectful father, and, yes, this has led to feelings of frustration and anger in Carlton -- isn't that the default setting for fathers and sons in family dramas? Does The Open Road have anything insightful to say about these relationships? Not really.
The movie does try to expand its appeal with a romance subplot between Carlton and Lucy. While Timberlake and Mara do make an attractive couple, there is little chemistry between them (don't all the ladies love JT?), and Laura is wasted as a mere sounding board for Carlton's angst and a receptive audience for Kyle's jokes.
In fact, it's those slightly off-color jokes that provide the slow trickle of lifeblood the movie has. Thankfully they are cannily told by Bridges, whose performance is one of the few lively things in this movie that seems to aspire to cinematic wallpaper. Also like wallpaper, The Open Road doesn't inspire strong reactions, and in no way rewards careful viewing.
For a conventional family drama, The Open Road had a fairly stout budget of $10 million. While I imagine much of that went to Timberlake and Bridges, I think it also helped pay for the location shooting (the film was shot at various spots across the country), which makes this movie look more interesting than your conventional character-driven drama. The picture on the 1080p picture is clean, bright, and pristine, and might make you pine for a road trip across the country yourself. I've driven across America three times, and some of the shots here, like the corn stalks blowing in the gentle breeze -- where you can see each individual blade of grass -- made me nostalgic for my travels. There are also some great locations of pit stops and restaurants that are not breathtaking, but undeniably middle America.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is adequate, but not fully utilized on this dialogue-heavy soundtrack. There are no special effects, few songs or orchestration, and not even much ancillary sound at all. Overall this is very basic, no frills soundtrack.
There are few extras on the disc: a commentary track with writer/director Michael Meredith and actor Jeff Bridges; a short making-of featurette; and the theatrical trailer. The commentary track is about as nondescript as the film itself, with Meredith and Bridges discussing locations, set designs, and character motivation -- information that varies in interest depending on one's opinion of the film itself. The featurette is only about five minutes long and features the cast discussing their opinions on the film.
Justin Timberlake may be one of the most magnetic pop stars of his generation, but he brings nothing to this plodding, nondescript, and occasionally nonsensical family drama. It's kind of like watching David Bowie non-ironically starring in a Lifetime movie. I kept waiting for something edgy, or even interesting, to happen, but this is a film so conventional it could have been written by a computerized plot generator. While Bridges provides some color as a prickly Southerner, Timberlake has about as much magnetism here as an extra in an Allstate commercial.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site