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THE MOTION PICTURE OF JACK KEROUAC'S ON THE ROAD

year: 2013 rating: **
To all newcomers of Beat Literature, beware when reading Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking 1957 novel ON THE ROAD...

You won’t find any actual plot and the only purpose is a chaotically wonderful cross-country adventure had by Jack Kerouac aka Sal Paradise and his instigating, womanizing muse Neal Cassady aka Dean Moriarty…

Meanwhile, Jack (most likely) wrote the book to not only glorify his best friend but to also describe the landscape of America. Much of the literary content are cerebral observations, not an easy transformation onto the big screen.

And so, when watching this much-anticipated film, don’t except two otherwise capable actors… Sam Riley as Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Moriarty… to stretch beyond an edgy countenance and do anything but talk, drive and, with a little help from their friends, take part in random sexcapades.

These freespirited fellas, along with Kristen Stewart’s highway moll, Marylou, one of Dean’s two disenchanted love interests, wield a desperate edge that should be followed by bank robberies… That is, if ON THE ROAD were a pulpy thriller, this rowdy trio would work just fine… But they, along with several miscast beatniks –  who seem more 1990’s than 1940’s –  are part of another journey altogether, having little to do with the "generation defining" source material.  

Real Neal & Jack
However, the film does follow the book in a skeletal frame, including stopovers in New York, New Jersey and Denver; Sal’s brief romance with a working girl; a visit at Old Bull Lee aka William Burrough's New Orleans pad; and a climactic illness in Mexico. What’s left out could have made the author more optimistic, like Kerouac himself, who, despite being a pivotal founder of the Beat movement, didn’t write dreary, somber prose to be whined about in darkened, bongo-thumping coffeehouses: But it's obvious director Walter Salles wanted to turn an upper pill into a downer.

A personal favorite novel selection has Sal and his fair-weather friend, Remi, working as night watchmen for a merchant sailor boarding camp, and then stealing a boat for kicks… The chapter is offbeat and humorous, setting our grungy heroes apart from the status quo during that "uptight" post-war era, something the cinematic ON THE ROAD fails to do since just about everyone acts as proudly progressed, wildly perverted and wickedly pontificating as the central characters...

Begging the questions: If everybody's crazy, why bother centering on these particular "mad ones" – and what makes them so special, anyhow? 
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