He’s the highlight of this enjoyable but slow-moving and clichéd film about a struggling ballplayer and his estranged parents. Justin Timberlake and Mary Steenburgen also star.
«The Open Road» is no Grand Prix winner, but it’s no six-car pileup either. It’s a low-key road movie that doesn’t stray far from the very, very beaten path.
Justin Timberlake stars as Carlton Garret, a struggling ballplayer apparently too thoughtful for his own good. His seriously ill mother (Mary Steenburgen) dispatches him to bring his long-estranged father, a baseball legend, to her hospital bedside. Clayton collects his beloved ex (the enchanting Kate Mara) and sets off to persuade Dad, hurt feelings and all, to see Mom.
Here, the film finds its real engine: Jeff Bridges as Kyle Garret. The unapologetically hard-drinking, tale-spinning character is right in the actor’s wheelhouse. The wily veteran gets extra mileage out of simple exchanges, such as when Carlton suspiciously asks Kyle what’s in the jumbo plastic cup he’s drinking from, and he responds, «Tasty beverage.»
Timberlake deserves kudos for not overplaying the part, but under writer-director Michael Meredith’s guidance, he — and the film — hug the opposite curb too hard. It’s low-key without being keenly observant; at times, it feels like 30 mph on the freeway. The movie dutifully packs a full trunk of road-movie clichés: the uptight protagonist, the eccentric passenger, the cathartic confrontation, the epiphany at the end of the journey.
A sprinkling of star cameos can’t make up for occasional hackneyed dialogue («You mustn’t ever ignore the ride,» sagely counsels Sick Mom) and lack of surprises in the scenery. It’s a trip we’ve all taken too many times before.
An Anchor Bay release of an Odd Lot Entertainment presentation in association with Heavy Lifting of a Perfect Weekend/Aquafoxx Prods./Maximon Pictures production. Produced by Justin Moore-Lewy, Charlie Mason, Michael Meredith, Jordan Foley, Laurie Foxx, David Schiff. Executive producers, Gigi Pritzker, Deborah Del Petrie, Kevin Foxx, Jonathan Gray, Heidi Levitt, Roy Scott MacFarland, Jason Hewitt, Wim Wenders. Co-producer, Brigitte Mueller. Directed, written by Michael Meredith.
With: Jeff Bridges, Justin Timberlake, Kate Mara, Harry Dean Stanton, Lyle Lovett, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson.
Entirely predictable but surprisingly involving, «The Open Road» gets respectable mileage from a familiar story about the gradual, grudging reconciliation between an errant father, a former Major League superstar, and his son, a discontented minor-league hopeful, during a cross-country road trip. Boasting strong performances by Jeff Bridges and Justin Timberlake as the estranged duo, writer-director Michael Meredith’s indie dramedy hardly qualifies as a home run, but largely satisfies as, at the very least, a stand-up double. After limited theatrical play, the pic may score in ancillary.
Jeff Bridges proves to be a most valuable player here as Kyle Garrett, a retired MLB luminary who’s never been any great shakes as a family man. Whether he’s signing autographs or spinning yarns while having a drink or two (or six or seven) in small-town bar, Kyle has the practiced affability of someone most at ease in the company of admiring strangers. His sangfroid diminishes slightly, but noticeably, when he’s paid a visit by someone who knows him all too well: Carlton (Justin Timberlake), the son he hasn’t heard from in nearly five years.
On temporary leave from the minor-league Corpus Christie Hooks, Carlton shows up unannounced at an Ohio convention with unwelcome news: Katherine (Mary Steenburgen), Carlton’s mom, is seriously ailing back in Houston, but won’t agree to a risky heart operation unless Kyle, her long-absent husband, is close by.
Kyle agrees to fly back to Houston with Carlton. But, true to his nature as a chronically unreliable ne’er-do-well, the prodigal dad conveniently loses his wallet just before their flight, and airport security can’t allow him to board the plane.
All of which, of course, serves as setup for a road trip, as Kyle and Carlton — accompanied by Lucy (Kate Mara), Carlton’s on-and-off girlfriend — take a long-distance drive in a rented SUV, on a journey that allows plenty of time for detours into unresolved issues and uncomfortable confrontations.
Dramatically and emotionally, «The Open Road» covers very little fresh ground. But auds willing to trek through this well-trod territory will enjoy the company of engaging traveling companions. Timberlake appealingly conveys the right measures of open-faced sincerity, long-simmering resentment and tongue-tied yearning, while Mara fleshes out her stock girlfriend role with subtle shadings of character.
Bridges dominates the pic, but does so by effectively underplaying a role that easily could have tempted another actor to attention-grabbing excess. His shrewd restraint is reflected in Meredith’s overall approach to storytelling: The comic elements are never too broad, and the drama, while compelling, is soft-pedaled.
Better still, Meredith never attempts the cheap trick of resolving conflicts with melodramatic revelations. The closest he comes to explaining Kyle’s selfishness is a wrenching scene in which he admits that, while he may have loved his family, he loved himself more. It’s not difficult to discern the influence of executive producer Wim Wenders, whose own «Don’t Come Knocking» dealt with (among other things) a similarly edgy father-and-son reunion. (Anyone who knows that Meredith’s own father is football great Don Meredith may wonder just how autobiographical «The Open Road» really is.)
Meredith backs his three leads with a strong lineup of supporting players. The newly ubiquitous Steenburgen makes the most of her limited screen time, and there are sharp cameos by Harry Dean Stanton, Lyle Lovett and Ted Danson.
Reportedly filmed in several states over 26 days, «The Open Road» boasts first-rate production values that suggest a small budget was spent wisely. Highlights include a stop at Memphis’ famous Peabody Hotel just in time for the daily march of ducks through the storied lobby.
Despite its dependable cast, this ponderous road movie remains stuck in the slow lane.
Jeff Bridges and Justin Timberlake play a pair of estranged father-and-son baseball players in The Open Road, a dreary dramedy of a road film that starts off ploddingly and proceeds to only grow more so as it crawls along.
Normally that sort of potentially inspired casting, which also includes Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton in supporting roles, should help divert attention away from any rough patches, but writer-director Michael Meredith (Three Days of Rain) maps out a claustrophobic, dramatically inert route that allows his players precious little breathing room.
The disappointing result should ensure that this limited release sees an equally limited theatrical run on its way to the ancillary markets.
Carlton Garrett (a typically earnest Timberlake) is a mopey minor-leaguer unsure of his future who is forced to track down his legendary, professional dad, Kyle (Bridges), when his mother (Steenburgen) is about to go in for a serious operation.
Accompanied by his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Kate Mara), Carlton somehow manages to persuade his long-absent, unreliable old man to make the trek from Ohio to Texas in a red SUV that provides its passengers little opportunity to duck some previously unaddressed issues. But that father-son relationship isn’t the only thing that’s strained.
Meredith, the son of gridiron great Don Meredith, obviously is working out some of his own personal stuff here, but it’s at the expense of a relentlessly introspective film in which the lead characters have a habit of announcing every action and articulating every inner thought ahead of carrying them out.
Although Bridges still succeeds in giving it his A-game as Timberlake’s gregarious, adage-spouting absentee dad, the performance ultimately serves to underscore just how much talent (including cameo turns by Lyle Lovett and Ted Danson) gets left behind in The Open Road.
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