Sam Riley, left, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund see 1950s America. (Gregory Smith)
"On the Road" may be less than the sum of its parts, but it does have some pretty good parts.
Director Walter Salles probably bit off more than anybody can chew in tackling Jack Kerouac's appropriately rambling beat novel about a struggling writer, his gonzo traveling buddy and the people they encounter in their travels. There is no real plot here, just a general downward swirl as irresponsible moves collide into irresponsible moves.
There are, however, some fine characters and lively performances, notably by Garrett Hedlund as hard-partying Dean Moriarity and Kristen Stewart as his wild-child teenage runaway bride, Marylou. The two are holed up in New York City when they meet and seduce aspiring writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley).
Sal is drawn to doers, not thinkers, and Dean and Marylou will do just about anything. So Sal sets off into 1950s America with Dean to see what he can learn about life.
What he learns is Dean is a pinball gone out of control. He marries another woman (Kirsten Dunst) and fathers kids, only to abandon them, just as he eventually abandons Sal and Marylou. The movie ends up a study in self-absorption.
Still, there's something heroically twisted and likable about Dean and wistfully romantic about Marylou. And the film has sparkling, strange turns from Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Elisabeth Moss, Steve Buscemi and more, all mostly playing characters based on real people.
"On the Road" is explicit and cruel and funny and filled with life past consequences until those consequences pile up. It's not a wreck of a movie; it's not a sleek race car either. But there's heat to be felt here.
'On the Road'
Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use and language
Running time: 124 minutes