"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. Carlton 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 cliches: 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.
'The Open Road'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some language
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood