The new Film by Bart Freundlich, the director who made The Myth of Fingerprints, wants to be a contemporary Five Easy Pieces with its alienated, unsympathetic protagonist and smudgy take on malaise. But it's too blurred and blank to be anything but aggravating.
World Traveler follows the angsty cross-country trek of Cal (Billy Crudup), a successful New York architect, who abandons his wife and young son to drive cross-country in his station wagon. Along the way he'll get drunk in seedy bars to a Willie Nelson-only jukebox and pick up women. His journey will take him to the coast of Oregon by way of Minne-apolis, and to an epiphany the viewer can see at the outset: He'll be the architect of his own destiny. Yawn.
Cal has no moral compass. He takes a construction job, befriends Carl (Cleavant Derricks), a married, philosophical recovering alcoholic, and coerces him into falling off the wagon and carousing with him. When Carl takes Cal home to meet his wife, they're wasted. Cal tries to seduce the wife and fails, then watches her undress and masturbates on the couch. Charming. Would you like to stay for dinner?
As the Dairy Queens, 7-Elevens, run-down motels, and faceless suburbs pass by, you may find yourself getting cluster déjà vu. We've seen this landscape too many times to even absorb it. The grammar of the road could be spoken in our sleep. The nebulous dread that Cal feels is drawn from the pool of Alienation Literature's Three Johns: Cheever, O'Hara, and Updike. Like them, it feels too pale, too male, and too stale. Cal's sense of entitlement is played off with passive-aggressive self-pity. His disconsolate moping never reveals anything; he remains inscrutable. It's hard to care about Cal, and you begin to suspect his wife and son are better off without him.