Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel has long been coveted for a silver-screen adaptation; both Joel Schumacher and Francis Ford Coppola had their names attached at different points. Even the author himself got in on the action in 1957, attempting to woo Marlon Brando to play droolworthy central character Dean Moriarty, the fictional alter ego of major Beat figure Neal Cassady. Now, at last, a version makes its way to theaters, with Coppola as executive producer and Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) as director. Unfortunately, they’ve turned Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness exploration of several aimless characters in post-WWII USA into a soporific prestige pic.
Sal Paradise (Sam Riley, speaking in a gravelly smoker’s drawl) is the Kerouac surrogate, a fledgling author searching for a muse, which he gets in the person of the gorgeous and spirited Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund, exuding pheremonal star power). Their many drug-and-sex-fueled expeditions take them across America’s fruited plains (all beautifully photographed by cinematographer Eric Gautier), where they meet up and hang out with a number of beatnik stand-ins. Best is Viggo Mortensen’s William S. Burroughs proxy Old Bull Lee, holed up in a perspiration-saturated Louisiana mansion with a shell-shocked Amy Adams and a gas-huffing chamber at the ready. Yet this stunt-cameo-loaded flick—Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard and Kirsten Dunst all make fleetingly ineffectual, for-the-love-of-our-art appearances—mostly feels like a group of Kerouac devotees performing a lifeless reenactment of prose that was better left on the page.
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