Since the brilliant Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Robert Downey Jr. has shot back into the mainstream, with multiple hits, and a blockbuster franchise that’s just getting started. His co-star in that film, Val Kilmer, has taken a different path, and has become one of the top direct-to-video stars around, with a new one arriving in stores what seems like every month. You’d think that with the ability to find steady work that he’d be able to turn down a script or two, but it seems like he’s saving for a rainy day and will do just about anything, with his latest film The Traveler being case and point.
Now to be fair, there are times, especially in the direct-to-video market, where action, horror or thriller films are made to be bad on purpose, with cheesy dialogue, C-list actors, and stories filled with clichés. It’s in these cases where you can’t really review the movies the same way you would, say, a Steven Spielberg film. As a critic, you have to grade it on a curve, as it’s aimed at a different audience; however, when the movie is so abysmal on every level that the audience it’s aiming for are those who rent their movies from the local garbage bins, you learn very quickly just how long an hour and a half truly is.
The Traveler stars Kilmer as a drifter who enters a police station (that’s not only the most poorly maintained station on the planet, but is also filled with the absolute worst crop of officers ever to graduate from the system) and wishes to confess to murder. It’s Christmas Eve, so there’s only a skeleton crew of six working that night, and it just so happens, these are the same six who tortured, abused, and sent a drifter into a coma a year earlier after their colleague, Detective Alexander Black (Dylan Neal) accused the man of kidnapping his daughter.
When asked for his name, Kilmer replies “Nobody,” and so they effectively call him Mr. Nobody for the remainder of the film, and when they don’t, they refer to him as the stranger. This caused me to wonder why they called the film The Traveler, instead of The Stranger, The Drifter, or something along those lines, as nobody ever brings up that he’s traveled, or say he’s the traveler. It’s a small annoyance in a film filled with so many more, but still, it’s something that stands out.
The problem with the film is, well, everything. The pacing is excruciatingly brutal, as every scene drags out minutes longer than needed. There’s a flashback used throughout the film that cuts back to show the five officers, along with Detective Black, all beating on the drifter. Each officer is ordered by Black to attack the man in some bizarre way, with one whipping him with a belt, another hitting him with a shovel, while another wraps a giant rope around his neck, before another puts a plastic bag around the guy’s head. It’s a little over the top, and is mainly used to set up revenge kills throughout the film, but seriously, a shovel and a huge rope? Where would these things be laying around in a police station?
Back to the flashback, which is the main problem in the film, as the filmmaker is obsessed with going over things that the audience already understands, not only shoving it down their throats, but making the film actually groan worthy not even halfway through. During every death scene we’re treated to a flashback of how that officer used the same tactic on the drifter, and it intertwines with the killing of said officer in present day for minutes at a time. As if we didn’t understand what was happening the first time, there are another handful of death scenes that use the exact same flashback, which make the film more torturous to the viewer than it is to the victims in the movie.
Director Michael Oblowitz is aptly named, as he certainly does blow it here. His use of repeat footage (not just the flashbacks, but actual shots are used multiple times in a scene just to drag it out longer) is amateurish, and his pacing of the film ruins any ounce of suspense he was hoping to build. The script, written by Joseph C. Muscrat, doesn’t help the film any, as the dialogue is ridiculous, even for a movie that may, or may not have been trying to be bad. Add onto that a climax that’s absolutely absurd on every level, and you have to wonder how anyone saw any potential in this movie.
The Traveler is a movie that a handful of people will see, and the only reason they’ll see it is because of Kilmer. The problem with this is that because of how bad it is, they may choose to shy away from his work in the future, which just proves that sometimes it’s better to just say no to a script. On the other hand, there is one scene where Kilmer is walking down the hall, stops next to an office where a cop is hiding and says “Just like Elvis,” then swings his arms in an Elvis type maneuver at the door, causing it to explode. This hilarious, out of nowhere moment may have saved his credibility, and if the director had chosen to loop it for an hour and a half, it may have saved the movie too.
The video quality of the film is fine, and there are no real complaints in a film that’s mainly shot in a darkened police station, where the lights flicker constantly, yet always seems well lit. The audio is also alright, though some of the dialogue does sound muffled from time to time. Luckily, most of the scenes are used multiple times throughout the film, so if you missed something the first time, you’ll likely catch it the third or fourth time around.
Thankfully, there are none.
The Traveler is the type of movie you avoid at all costs. Even if you enjoy bad movies that are suppose to be bad, you’ll likely find yourself going, Man, was that bad, once this one is done. The acting is laughable, the story is even worse, and the climax (if you make it that far) will make you want to bang your head against a table until the thought of it is erased from your memory.
Hollywood Media Bridge Present The Traveler. Directed by: Michael Oblowitz. Starring: Val Kilmer. Running time: 91 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: January 25, 2011.
Tags: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Val Kilmer