“World Traveler” is a character study about a man who seems to have everything but for some reason wants more. Perhaps because Cal has a lovely family, nice home and good job that he leaves behind in order to explore the open road, it is difficult to sympathize with him. That one cares about him at all is a credit to the charisma of Billy Crudup, who plays him.
At first, we don’t know why Cal has suddenly left on the eve of his little boy’s birthday. All we know is that he’s hopped in the car and headed west, leaving New York behind. He meets a variety of people along the way, ultimately leaving all of them, too. He is searching for something, but if he knows what, he’s not saying.
He accumulates a drinking buddy, Carl (Cleavon Derricks); picks up a hitchhiker (Liane Balaban); sleeps with a waitress (Karen Allen); and winds up with a mother in search of her child (Julianne Moore).
James LeGros plays an old classmate named Jack, whom Cal encounters in an airport. He is funny, and he also serves an important narrative function: He lets us know that the way Cal is now is the way he’s always been. If he doesn’t learn something about life, and soon, he’s going to self-destruct.
It should be noted that Cal drinks a lot — A LOT — and cares little about anyone other than himself. People in the movie seem to like him — he’s always being told “I’m glad I met you” or “I’m glad I ran into you” — but I can’t say I share their sentiments. He is a protagonist who doesn’t say or do much, and while Billy Crudup is a fine actor, especially when playing tortured, introverted characters (see “Jesus’ Son” or “Waking the Dead”), he’s not good enough to bring this guy to life.
Written and directed by Bart Freundlich, “World Traveler” acutely taps into the psyche of dissatisfied 30-year-olds, and the “road trip” type of movie fits nicely with the theme of the personal journey. Nonetheless, there should be more zest, more spark and more life to a film as rich in character and internal struggles as this one.
C+ (; )