I don’t know why I keep giving Val Kilmer the benefit of the doubt. Over the past few years, I’ve suffered through a number of truly awful motion pictures simply because I keep hoping that things will turn around for the big guy. And while I did enjoy his turn in Werner Herzog’s unappreciated 2009 black comedy “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans”, I have, for the most part, been grossly disappointed with the sort of projects Kilmer gravitates towards these days. It’s almost as if he’s given up, thrown in the towel, and retreated to the self-imposed exile that is the direct-to-video market. A paycheck’s a paycheck, right? Just ask Steven Seagal and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Kilmer’s latest offering is “The Traveler”, a fetid slice of supernatural tomfoolery that will insult your intelligence every chance it gets. Attempting to follow the logic is pointless; there’s nothing about the story that makes the least bit of sense. All of the characters seem to reside in some sort of bizarre limbo, a world which they alone inhabit. If director Michael Oblowitz — the man responsible for the unintentional comedy classic “Out for a Kill” — was aiming for the surreal, he certainly achieved it. However, given the filmmaker’s previous crimes against cinema, I seriously doubt “The Traveler” was intended to be that sophisticated. Spending any amount of time pondering subtext will only make you angry.
The film opens on Christmas Eve, and things are pretty quiet at the old downtown police station. Quiet, that is, until a chubby, long-haired stranger strolls into the lobby and tells the bespectacled guy at the front desk that he has a confession to make. Long story short, our mysterious friend has committed a few homicides — six murders, to be exact — though he isn’t willing to elaborate at all. Like any good law enforcement official would do, they stick the guy in a nearby cell and attempt to coerce the truth from his reluctant lips. Did I mention that he also speaks cryptically, whistles ominously, and swaps cells mysteriously? It’s abundantly clear that the police are way in over their heads. And, like clockwork, our heroes begin to perish one by one, each death more grisly than the last.
“The Traveler” had the potential to be entertaining. Not good, mind you, but entertaining. Unfortunately, every opportunity to turn this by-the-number supernatural slasher into something original and imaginative is missed, and before you know it, you’ve wasted 90 minutes of your life watching Val Kilmer whisper his way through a script that no one seems to care about. Everyone on-board this dodgy cinematic vessel either looks tired, miserable, or embarrassed, and Oblowitz’s uninspired direction suggests he was on the same wavelength as his cast. Can you really blame them? The script couldn’t be more generic and cliche, so why bother putting any effort into the production?
The biggest and perhaps most damning mistake “The Traveler” made was at the very end of its concentrated assault on your patience. The manner in which the movie is resolved is a blatant slap in the face to those who were genuinely interested in where the story was headed. It’s a “deus ex machina” of the worst order, and any shred of believability the film hoped to achieve is completely demolished by its complete disregard for your intelligence. What’s more, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. To say more would spoil the ending for anyone who actually wants to investigate this mess , so I’ll refrain from going into specifics. But know this: I’ve never flipped off a television screen after watching a movie. That is, of course, until I met “The Traveler”. I probably looked like an idiot while I was engaging in this juvenile behavior, but it definitely made me feel better at the time.
Needless to say, “The Traveler” doesn’t come highly recommended. In fact, only hardcore Val Kilmer addicts need apply, and even they will probably tell you that this particular effort doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. If Kilmer wants to stay relevant, even in the direct-to-video arena, he’s going to have to select his scripts a little more carefully. Delivering this sort of drek on a regular basis will ultimately destroy what’s left of his fanbase, and cause people like me — individuals who don’t mind a little wonkiness with their cinema — to abandoned ship altogether. Kilmer already has a number of titles lined up for this year, so he still has a few opportunities to prove he isn’t as washed-up as this title would suggest. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I certainly will not hold my breath.
Michael Oblowitz (director) / Joseph C. Muscat (screenplay)
CAST: Val Kilmer … Mr. Nobody
Dylan Neal … Detective Alexander Black
Paul McGillion … Deputy Jerry Pine
Camille Sullivan … Deputy Jane Hollows
Nels Lennarson … Deputy Toby Sherwood
Chris Gauthier … Desk Sargeant Gulloy
John Cassini … Deputy Jack Hawkins