Saturday, September 6, 2008

Traveling Man

I'd like to commend to you an unusual little movie -- one that's gone straight to DVD after winning a few awards on the "smaller festival" circuit. It's not great, but it's sweet, slight -- yet different in one particular way from almost anything else in its genre -- and it manages to achieve most of its goals. If you are one of those who feels, as I do, that travel is indeed broadening and wonderful, even with its occasional "Where's my wallet?" moments, THE ART OF TRAVEL should give you pleasure.

The film begins as a seemingly typical romantic comedy, and its first section does deliver a payoff about as good as this genre gets (see Paul Lazarus' Seven Girlfriends for my choice as one of the best of romantic comedies). Then the movie morphs into the travel/adventure/laughs mode and moves from Central to South America, while introducing a fairly interesting set of characters. This section is the film's weakest -- not bad, mind you, but a little derivative and obvious. Yet, just as does the movie's main character, played quite well by Christopher Masterson (shown above), we need this connecting tissue in order to arrive at the much stronger, surprisingly intelligent and adult finale.

The film was evidently shot in all the locales that its story covers, which should makes it especially appealing to travel buffs (the award-winning cinematography by Lawson Deming offers some gorgeous vistas). The cast is made up of attractive and talented actors, including James Duval, Johnny Messner, Brooke Burns, Maria Conchita Alonso and newcomer Angelika Baran -- who, by film's end, will capture your heart. Director and writer (with Brian LaBelle) Thomas Whelan has given us a narrative that is also a kind of treatise on travel. In its sly way, his movie does as much for the idea -- and, yes, the "art" -- of travel as any documentary I've seen.

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