People have been trying to film Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," the talismanic Beat novel, just about since the day it was published in 1957.

But here, finally, and kind of anticlimactically, comes a real "On the Road."

Cut to North America, where the ramblers are Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kerouac's alter ego, and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty (alias Neal Cassady). Crisscrossing the States, dropping down to New Orleans from New York and then over to San Francisco and all around, the wild and crazy guys lob a lot of highfalutin gab about freedom and truth, the nature of man and the search for God. And then they smoke some weed, play some jazz, have some sex (mostly, but not exclusively, with women), and scrounge for cash.

If there's an element of posturing and posing in the book it's even more pronounced in the film. Riley and Hedlund are handsome dudes and earnest actors, but to watch them here is to see two men not quite certain how to burrow deep into the characters they're playing, because the characters they're playing were faking it, too.

Kristen Stewart drops her sulky "Twilight" shtick long enough to be convincing as the wild, teenage Marylou (based on Cassady's wife, LuAnne), a sexually accommodating traveling companion with a sad, self-protective edge. And Kirsten Dunst gets the strongest -- and least fun -- scenes as Camile (aka Carolyn), Moriarty's next missus, and the mother of his babies, stuck in her San Francisco apartment while the guys hit the town.


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"On the Road" is an honorable homage to the bennies-and-booze-and-bebop-driven hegiras undertaken by the fiercely dedicated anti-establishment duo.

Movie Review ...

(3 out of 4)

ON THE ROAD (R). Directed by Walter Salles. Distributed by IFC Films. At Triple4x Cinema (Great Barrington). 2 hours 4 minutes.