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Movie review: 'On the Road'

Posted 9:11pm on Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013

R (strong sexual content, drug use, strong language); 123 min.

Walter Salles' On the Road was made with noble intentions, finely crafted filmmaking and handsome casting, but, alas, it does not burn, burn, burn.

Salles, the Brazilian filmmaker of The Motorcycle Diaries and Central Station, would seem the perfect director to translate to the screen Jack Kerouac's poetry of the road. But this On the Road, the first ever big-screen adaption of the Beat classic, doesn't pulse with the electric, mad rush of Kerouac's feverish phenomenon.

Salles approached the book with reverence and deep research, and perhaps that's the problem -- that its spirit got suffocated by respectfulness. As our Dean Moriarty, Kerouac's stand-in for Neal Cassady, Garrett Hedlund ( Tron) gives his all in an ultimately failed attempt to find Moriarty's wild magnetism within him. As the center of the book and the film -- the Gatsby to our narrator Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) -- he's crucial to making On the Road work. But he's missing the mythical spark of Moriarty.

Paradise and Moriarty make a series of trips crisscrossing the country, bound in a brotherhood of travel. Paradise, Kerouac's stand-in, is forever jotting down notes while Moriarty jumps from one woman to another. Carlo Marx, aka Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge), is there, too, enamored of and in love with Moriarty, while sharing the intellectual ambitions of Paradise.

The women of On the Road, afterthoughts in the book, have more fire here than the men.

Viggo Mortensen, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard and Amy Adams make cameos, mostly suggesting the prestige of the project. In the end, On the Road remains paved over.

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-- Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

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