ON THE ROAD directed by Walter Salles, written by José Rivera from the book by Jack Kerouac, with Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst. An Alliance Films release. 125 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
It's nice that we live in an age when it's possible to bring Jack Kerouac's seminal beat work to the screen with the wide-open sexuality and most of the drug use intact.
But by reducing the book to its events and dialogue and eliminating Kerouac's vivid prose, director Walter Salles and screenwriter José Rivera (Letters To Juliet) turn it into an endless road trip about insufferable people driving back and forth across America, convinced they're being rebels when they're really just acting out.
Sam Riley spends most of the movie in watchful mode as Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise, while Garrett Hedlund is appropriately seedy and handsome as Dean Moriarty; Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst stand around looking sour as Moriarty's perpetually neglected lovers.
Salles never finds a way to bring the story to life the way he did Ché Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries, which was an even more episodic text; he just moves from one bacchanal to the next, hoping we'll catch a contact high.