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Man On The Go: A restless Billy Crudup travels west to the Pacific in Bart Freundlich's road film.

Moving Man

Sensitive acting redeems a journey of desertion in 'World Traveler'

By Richard von Busack

IF I HAD a son to bore, I'd bore him with this advice: Son, I'd say, wherever you go, you'll hear "Love, love, love is all you'll need," but being able to travel is just as necessary as love. Bart Freundlich's World Traveler concerns a dutiful Manhattan husband, Cal (Billy Crudup), who, on his son's third birthday, does that terrible dog-thing that every husband and father has thought of at one moment or another: he packs a bag, gets in a car and starts driving.

On his way across America--seen in photographer Terry Stacey's glorious widescreen photography--Cal encounters figures that might be dredged up from his fantasies of a road trip: a worn, lovely waitress (Karen Allen) and a sweet hitchhiker (Liane Balaban). What I'm describing sounds like a male fantasy, of no interest to women. Yet Freundlich is too wary a director to let Cal off the hook. The gravity of his abandoned family pulls him into inescapable grief, even as he is drawn to the Pacific by unanswered questions about a father who flew the coop himself, years before.

The film's highlight is the amazing Julianne Moore (Freundlich's partner offscreen). Moore plays Dulcy, an anti-screwball comedy character--a dizzy, drunk heiress who turns out to be not merely colorful but deeply troubled. World Traveler has so much to offer. It has the comedy of the interstate highways, as well as the splendor of the North American continent. It features Crudup's subtle, humorous playing of a self-destructive man (he's as good here as he was in Jesus' Son). Freundlich's dialogue--and the dialogue he sensibly leaves out--is funny and elliptical, and Cleavant Derrick is very warm in the film's one unsatisfying episode, about Cal's stint as a construction worker. World Traveler is too sensitive, smart and provocative to be a hit, so don't wait too long to see it. You owe it to yourself to experience it on a big screen.

World Traveler (R; 103 min.), directed and written by Bart Freundlich, photographed by Terry Stacey and starring Billy Crudup, Julianne Moore, Cleavant Derricks and Karen Allen, opens Friday at Camera 3 and the Century Cinema 16 in San Jose.

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From the April 25-May 1, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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