Anchor Bay // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // November 17th, 2009
They've got a long way to go.
Unless your name is "Wahlberg," the movies aren't a top career option for aging boy banders. Sure, Joey Fatone of N'Sync picked up a couple of good supporting parts in The Cooler and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Lance Bass has parlayed his "Hey, I'm gay" revelation into a few self-winking cameos, but if you're wish list for future releases includes Nick Lachy's Hamlet or a Godfather update with the Backstreet Boys filling in as the Corleone brothers, you've probably got a long wait ahead.
Justin Timberlake has had a comparatively successful post-N'Sync career. His solo albums have been successful, he's made some memorable appearances on Saturday Night Live, his performances sell out, and his high-profile romances have kept him in the public eye. Unfortunately, when it comes to the silver screen, Timberlake timber-lacks. While he did reasonably well as a dimwitted thug in the little-seen Alpha Dog, the film he's likely best known for -- The Love Guru -- is better left forgotten.
Rather than continue to try his hand at low profile but edgier fare like Black Snake Moan and Southland Tales, Timberlake takes a full-on starring role in The Open Road, a squishy and predictable TV movie of the week that somehow sidestepped TV. It apparently sidestepped theaters too, and is now being sprung on an unsuspecting and disinterested world on DVD.
Mopey, slumping minor league baseball player Carlton Garrett (Justin Timberlake) learns that his mother (Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard) needs a heart operation. Stubborn and quirky gal that she is, Mom refuses to go through with it unless Carlton gets his estranged father, Kyle Garrett, to come and visit her for possibly the last time. So Carlton packs up his former girlfriend, Lucy (Kate Mara, We Are Marshall) and goes off the corral Dad. But Kyle, a.k.a. "Lonestar" (Jeff Bridges, Starman), is an irresponsible and irrepressible ex-major league baseball player on an autograph-signing tour. Will this fractured father and son be able to make peace through a series of contrived situations and tedious small talk and make it to the hospital before Mom's left ventricle gives out?
The Open Road gives us characters and situations so familiar that you don't watch it so much as you karaoke it. The only suspense comes from wondering which clichés will be left out. The answer: very few. The set ups are ridiculously simple. Mom just decides she wants Kyle there after an apparent decades-long estrangement. Carlton can't call him because this famous ex-baseball player doesn't have a cell phone. Lucy just drops what she's doing to go with Carlton, who's afraid to talk to his father because of the contrived and folksy way the ex-pinstriper talks. Kyle agrees to go with Carlton with no fuss. They have to drive from Ohio to Texas because Kyle can't find his ID. And so on.
Now, there's nothing wrong with dispensing with the complications of a set up in order to get the characters to where they need to be. If the meat of the film involves Carlton, Lucy, and Kyle stuck in a car hashing out their tricky relationships, then get them in the damned car and get on it. Unfortunately, once they're in said damned car, nothing happens. There are no fireworks from the personalities, since the characters don't have much in the way of personality. Carlton is dour, and Lucy is solid and wise -- the kind of girlfriend you'd like to have. As for ol' Lonestar, well, he's a pistol, a homespun phrase-makin' machine who admiringly calls women "heifers" and rebukes his son for letting Lucy get away by observing that she's "finer than hair on a frog." These three have nothing to say to each other; if you were stuck sitting near them on a bus, you wouldn't bother to eavesdrop on their conversation. They're that dull. You know that by the time Lonestar the baseball player hits Lone Star the state, everyone's differences will have been resolved, and Carlton and Lucy will head into their monotonous futures together.
I don't know what his connections are, but somehow, writer/director Michael Meredith got quite a cast together for this ponderous affair. While Timberlake has yet to prove himself as an actor, he has name recognition, and he certainly has presence, though good luck finding it here. His Carlton is unrelentingly glum and earnest, with no edge or any sense of fun. Bridges works in full on Southern charm mode, but instead of having any dimension as a character, he's all exaggerated good ol' boy drawl and endless corn-pone nonsequitors. Steenburgen is given little to do. She spends most of her time giving orders to Timberlake via cell phone and popping out the occasional aphorism. The great Harry Dean Stanton has a few scenes as Steenburgen's father, and Lyle Lovett and Ted Danson stand out in their brief appearances.
Anchor Bay, typically, gives us a good disc. The film is available in widescreen or full frame and the 5.1 surround track ensures that you won't miss a word of the dialogue or a note of any of the three dozen or so musical montages that pad out the running time. For extras, there's a commentary with Bridges and Meredith, and a less-interesting-than-usual making-of that's worth catching for Harry Dean Stanton's take on the meaning of life.
In one of the film's "meaningful" moments, Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love" comes on the radio. Lonestar notes that this was his and Carlton's mother's song, starts singing along, and gets nostalgic. Hearing this song made me nostalgic too...for better movies, like Bad Lieutenant and Mean Streets in which this song was also featured.
The Open Road is a derivative and meandering waste of time. View at your peril.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13