World Traveler

on April 19, 2002 by Kevin Courrier
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   Writer/director Bart Freundlich ("The Myth of Fingerprints") tends to make movies about basically decent but dysfunctional people caught in a spiritual crisis. But in "The Myth of Fingerprints" the people became rigidly fixed symbols rather than interesting dramatic characters. As a result, the film evaporated out of memory. "World Traveler" suffers from some of the same flaws as his first feature, but there are also some definite improvements.

   Cal (Billy Crudup) is a married New Yorker who one day abandons his wife and child to hit the road. Along the way, he meets an assortment of people in various forms of distress. Among them is construction worker whose marriage Cal has dented; an amiable hitchhiker (Liane Balaban) he later abandons; a former high-school nemesis (James LeGros); and an unstable mother (Julianne Moore) obsessively searching for her lost son. While Cal impulsively sets on this road trip to escape his life, the path he's chosen leads him to some painful facts about it.

   In "World Traveler," Freundlich wants to know why our lives take on the patterns they do, but his biggest flaw is that he seems to have the answers worked out before he poses the questions. For example, in the film's first few minutes, we're treated to flashbacks to Cal's emotionally scattered life before we even get a sense of who he is, or why he's making his escape. Yet despite the psychologically pat story, some of the actors liven things up. Crudup gets better--and more revealing--as his journey continues. James LeGros has a pip of a cameo in which his character's congeniality masks a deep resentment. Julianne Moore also floods her part with a haunted remorse. Getting on the road has definitely loosened Bart Freundlich up as a director. "World Traveler" might not go anywhere new, or arrive anyplace special, but it's certainly an honest attempt to get at something.    Starring Billy Crudup, Juliane Moore, David Keith, Liane Balaban and James LeGros. Directed and written by Bart Freundlich. Produced by Tim Perell and William Perkins. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 103 min.

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