December 30, 2012 -- This movie mostly consists of a series of road trips, based on Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel, “On the Road.” The characters, Kerouac (AKA Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley of ), his friend Neal Cassady (AKA Dean Moriarty) and others pile into a 1949 Hudson Commodore and go rocketing across the vast American landscape in the late 1940s and early 1950s experimenting with sex, drugs and alternative lifestyles.
The movie is also a Whose Who of central figures of the Beat Generation, Alan Ginsberg (AKA Carlo Marx, played by Tom Sturridge of “Pirate Radio”) Kerouac, Cassady (who was also seen, in the flesh, last year in the documentary “Magic Bus”) and William S. Burroughs (AKA Old Bull Lee, played by Viggo Mortensen of “Appaloosa”). All these real people represented in the film are identified by their pseudonyms used in the Kerouac book, so Kerouac becomes Sal Paradise, Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty, and so on. In this review, to avoid confusion, I'm sticking to the real names of the actual historical people represented in the film, not their pseudonyms.
The movie opens with Kerouac struggling to become a writer in New York, hanging out with his friends, including Ginsberg. When his friend, Cassady shows in New York City up with wife LuAnne Henderson (AKA Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart of the “Twilight” films) the group of friends go on a drinking and drug binge. When Cassady moves back to Denver, Kerouac's inspiration dries up. He decides to go on the road, hitchhiking across the country. His many travels would later provide material for the book on which this movie is based.
When Kerouac and Cassady get back together, the mercurial Cassady has left LuAnne and married his second wife, Carolyn (AKA Camille, played by Kirsten Dunst of “Melancholia”), but Cassady and LuAnne get back together again later for a time. Cassady has used his savings to buy a new Hudson and the group of friends take several road trips around the country in the car, including a trip to visit William S. Burroughs and his wife. Burroughs appears to be just as strange as anyone else in this story filled with odd characters. Carolyn gets fed up with Cassady's trips and affairs, and throws him out of the house at one point.
If this all sounds confusing, it is. Despite the fact that it takes place in a chronological sequence, it seems like a non-narrative story. It may be less confusing for those who are familiar with the book, or who familiar with the lives of these Beat Generation people. The movie seems like a series of interminable trips, parties, affairs and bed-hopping relationships, including some bisexual ones. One one trip, Cassady has sex with a man (played by Steve Buscemi of “Rampart”). There is also a memorable fever-induced hallucination in Mexico when Kerouac comes down with dysentery. The final scene between Cassady and Kerouac is very strange, even accounting for the fact that Cassady abandoned Kerouac when he was sick in Mexico.
This film seemed awfully long to me, but there are shorter versions than the one I saw. I saw a 158 minute version of the film. There is also a 137 minute version and a 124 minute version, according to the Internet Movie Database. I recommend the shorter version, about 45 minutes shorter than the one I saw. In this case, I think less is more. This film rates a C.
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