As Jeff Bridges, to me, has always been one of the most underrated actors of his period--I'm glad to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves. His recent Oscar win for "Crazy Heart" is just a capper on his previous four nominations (The Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, and The Contender) which spanned nearly 40 years. Aside from "Picture Show," these films only hint at Bridges' range and I've always maintained that his best work often flew under the radar (Tucker: The Man And His Dream, The Fisher King, the incredible Oscar worthy Fearless, and dare I mention The Dude from The Big Lebowski) and were the true heights of his acting genius. It's only natural that Bridges has settled into somewhat of a comfort zone and "The Open Road" is a film he could do in his sleep. Playing a disheveled and obstinate man in a mid-life crisis has been Bridges' go-to role for several years now and it's on display again in this dysfunctional road trip dramedy.
Justin Timberlake plays a struggling minor league ball player who is distressed to learn that his mother (Mary Steenburgen) is in need of a heart operation. She refuses the procedure unless her ex-husband (Timberlake's father Bridges) comes to see her. Bridges plays a former baseball champion now boozing through his glory years signing autographs and reliving past successes. Needless to say, his relationship with his son is fairly non-existent and suitably strained. Timberlake and faithful gal pal (and former girlfriend) Kate Mara fly out to retrieve Bridges at a baseball convention. Of course, if this were the real world--there wouldn't be much drama to this scenario. But through movie magic and contrived situations, the three are forced into a road trip across country. It's not the least bit believable, but are these things ever? What do you suspect might happen? If I have to tell you, you don't see many movies! There are plenty of confrontations between Bridges and Timberlake, unexpected bonding, mild humor and anything else that might provoke a new understanding between the central characters.
Many people I know have attacked this movie due to Timberlake (this was prior to him appearing in higher profile roles). In truth, he's fine. I appreciated that he actually wanted to do something more low key and small to develop his talent. Bridges is, of course, a reliable trooper. But the movie's secret weapon, to my mind, is the thoroughly charming Mara. I've liked her for years (check out Transsiberian if you haven't seen it), but here she really gets a chance to hold her own. Look, nothing in "The Open Road" will surprise you from a plotting standpoint--but it is an agreeable and amiable diversion. I certainly liked it, but its lack of surprises or originality keep it firmly grounded as a pleasant, but not great, experience. If you are a fan of any of the principles, check this out. Slight and predictable, but fairly engaging nevertheless. KGHarris, 10/11.