The Open Road writer-director Mike Meredith must have pictures of Jeff Bridges, Justin Timberlake, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton, and Lyle Lovett committing horrible crimes against small children or adorable woodland creatures. How else to explain their participation in a sleepy little nothing of a comedy-drama about an estranged father and son learning that it’s all about the journey, not the destination, man, during a perversely uneventful road trip? A more likely explanation is that the rest of the cast was eager to work with the great Jeff Bridges, a dependable veteran who brings his trademark laid-back charisma to the role of a legendary retired ballplayer and half-assed father who tries mightily to bond with a petulant son immune to his cornball charm.
In a rare leading role, Timberlake stars as a struggling baseball player who reconnects with Bridges when his mother (Mary Steenburgen) requests that her ex-husband be at her bedside for an important operation. Timberlake is ambivalent about the reunion at best, but reluctantly acquiesces. The moody ballplayer/aspiring writer (always be wary of films with protagonists thinking about maybe writing a book) heads to a baseball card convention, where Bridges is holding court for adoring fans and embarks on a journey of reconciliation and life lessons.
Timberlake runs the gamut of emotions here from sullen to pouty to resentful to dour. If Bridges’ attention-hungry chatterbox has too much personality, Timberlake has too little. It’s hard to believe that the handsome, passive-aggressive blank at the center of the film is played by one of the biggest, most magnetic pop stars in the world. As the son of Cowboys quarterback and announcer “Dandy Don” Meredith, the film’s writer-director certainly knows something about growing up in the shadow of a beloved athlete, but Bridges’ intriguing background and current gig hamming it up at sports card conventions barely factors into the proceedings. Despite a typically fine Bridges performance and the preponderance of ringers in the supporting cast, The Open Road takes its sweet time going nowhere.
Key features: An audio commentary from Meredith and Bridges.