Lionsgate // 2010 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 28th, 2011
Where he goes, death follows.
If there was any justice in the world, a mysterious electromagnetic pulse would cover the Earth, completely and selectively erasing any traces of The Traveler from the world, from its celluloid original to all the direct-to-DVD copies floating around. The average reader might now be a bit incredulous. I mean Verdict has reviewed some serious cinematic dreck (for an example, see Judge Johnson's wonderful review of the terrible Inbred Redneck Vampires). Rarely, though, if ever, has Verdict called for a film's extinction. It's not that The Traveler is that bad (we've certainly seen worse), but it remains a terrible reminder of just how startlingly bad a film can go.
For plot, The Traveler presents the story of a small town and its police station. On Christmas Eve the town is cut off from the interstate by a wreck, right after a mysterious stranger (Val Kilmer, Tombstone) appears in the station to confess to murder. The fact that cops start to die and that the stranger may have a previous connection to the town is explored in the following 90 minutes.
I really don't want to talk about this, but journalistic integrity compels me: Val Kilmer is the only possible reason this film got made and released. Numerous stories have remarked on his weight gain and the slump in his career (as signaled by the numerous direct-to-video releases he's participated in during the last five years or so), and I just want to avoid the subject completely. I think the man is tremendously talented, and it is truly sad that he's appearing in a film as horrible as The Traveler. It's especially sad because there are moments when the old Val can be glimpsed -- there's an intensity there, and a menace that few other actors can manage for a huge salary, let alone for the few bones Kilmer must have made on this thing.
Why is it a waste you might ask? Well, The Traveler plays out like an early X-Files script, one of those standalone jobs from when the show was still finding its legs. The whole mysterious man coming into town thing isn't a bad hook to hang a story on (see the career of Clint Eastwood for proof), but the mélange of mysterious strange with apparent supernatural powers, plus an apparent revenge motivation just doesn't work. Despite the attempt to create some suspense with flashbacks, it's pretty obvious who the stranger is and what he's after from about 10 minutes in. After that it's a game of "let's watch flashbacks of a guy getting beaten," interspersed with supernaturally inflected present-day cop killing.
On DVD, The Traveler is given the presentation its worthy of. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is nothing special. It's not bad, but the dimly lit interiors that make up the bulk of the film were never going to shine on DVD. The 5.1 surround track is mostly wasted. Dialogue is easy to discern and there's a bit of directionality, but for the most part, the rear speakers and subwoofer are underutilized. There are no extras, which is a double-edged sword: as it is I don't have to have anything more to do with the film, but the inclusion of extras, especially from Mr. Kilmer, might have made more disposed to enjoy the film.
In the film's defense, I guess I can see how on paper it sounded like a good idea -- and I suspect that my X-Files analogy is on the mark, because as a 45-minute TV episode, this story could have been pulled off. Also, the entire cast is pretty committed to making this thing work for whatever that's worth. They're all playing cardboard cutout cops (except for Kilmer), but for that, the performances are all right.
Maybe The Traveler doesn't deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet, but I'd rather not remember that this is the kind of material Val Kilmer is stooping to after his run of simply fantastic roles well into the twenty-first century. Only the most fanatic followers of the actor's career should seek this film out. Everyone else should move along, because there's nothing to see here.
Where this movie goes, boredom follows: guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R