18-year old Conner Layne (Christopher Masterson) is about to become the youngest guy in town to get married. On his wedding day, though, he announces his brideâ€™s infidelity with the best man and walks out on the nuptials. He makes a snap decision, packs his bags and takes the first flight out. His destination: Managua, Nicaragua. This begins Conner's journey, both physical and metaphorical, as he learns "The Art of Travel."
Conner's arrival in the Central American capital is less than stellar. The pain of being mugged and robbed is soothed, however, when he meets two hot Dutch babes and they get it on. Later, he crosses paths with Chris and Darlene Loren (Johnny Messner and Brooke Burns), a couple heading a small group on a mission to cross the Darien Gap, a 100 mile long tract of wilderness between Panama and Colombia. At first, he refuses their invite to join them but soon has a change of heart and the small party sets off on their dangerous trek.
The journey stretches on for over a year and the group face a pathless jungle of dense foliage that they must hack a way through to move their jeep and supplies. Poisonous snakes, guerilla fighters, near impassable mountains and valleys and incredible odds face them every day. All the while, though, the tiny band of brothers and sisters Chris, Darlene, Conner, Taaylor 'One Ball' (James Duval), Carlos 'Bullet' (Shalim Ortiz), Justin 'Two Dogs' (Jake Muxworthy) and Anna 'G-Spot' (Angelika Baran) keep their sense oof humor with a stead string of practical jokes.
Director-writer Thomas Whelan, with co-scribe Brian LaBelle, comes up with an entertaining coming-of-age tale that requires an extensive suspension of disbelief, sometimes to WTF levels. The implausibility of story, though, is made up for by the engaging efforts of the cast led by "Malcolm in the Middle's" Christopher Masterson. The 28-year old actor looks a bit too worn to be a teenager but he gives Conner a sense of youthful wonder that suits the lad.
Chris Messner gives off the leadership vibes that would make sense of such a hare brained plan to set a record crossing the Gap. Brooke Burns makes Darlene a true equal to her adventurous husband and is plausibly tough enough for the task at hand. The rest provide good support and bring dimension to their roles with Angelika Baran the love interest for the fast maturing Conner.
Techs are solid and give the troupe's journey a degree of verisimilitude, particularly the lensing by Lawson Deming. The use of such locales as Bolivia, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru adds to the exotic flavor of the film. The Machi Picchu location, near the end, is a stunning cap for this little travelogue.
The DVD release of "The Art of Travel" is woefully short on extras, limited to a handful of theatrical previews and little else. I give the film a B- and the DVD release a C.
When Conner Layne (Christopher Masterson, TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") discovers his bride-to-be has cheated with the Best Man, he ditches his wedding and takes off on the first flight available. The naive American is quickly fleeced in Nicaragua, but on the eve of his departure he meets adventurers Christopher (Johnny Messner, "Hostage," "Running Scared") and Darlene Loren (Brooke Burns, TV's "Miss Guided") and learns "The Art of Travel."
Cowriter (with Brian LaBelle)/director Thomas Whelan embraces the wanderlust spirit in this enjoyable if uneven film, whose qualities often reflect the television background of most of its cast. Masterson (Malcolm's older brother Francis) gives a thoroughly likable performance as the all American boy losing his cultural and romantic innocence abroad.
After being robbed in Managua, Conner is comforted by some welcoming Dutch girls, then encouraged to continue on his journey by his father (Ernie Lively, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2") while mom (Maria Conchita Alonso, "Moscow on the Hudson") frets in the background. Nine weeks later finds a more confident Layne trading pleasantries with a 'regular' waiter in Panama. It is here that he meets the Lorens, intent on breaking the world record for crossing the Darién Gap, a hundred miles of swampland and forest leading into Columbia. Their team, who need to get a Jeep and all their supplies through fiercely tough terrain, are a group of nicknamed practical jokers from all around the world who quickly dub the green American 'Roadkill.' Over time, a romance blooms with Anna (Angelika Baran) and when the group triumphs, she continues on with Conner, traveling to Peru's Machu Picchu.
The film's main problem is its title, which promises some real globe trekking and instead becomes a buddy survival tale in the Panamanian wilds. The entire emphasis of the film is on the Darién Gap sequence, the getting there becoming setup, the aftermath trailing off into the high altitude ether. The film is enjoyable for what it is and has its share of laughs, but production values are television level despite the film's exotic locales, making the film's path from festival to DVD appropriate. The DVD itself boasts no extras.
"The Art of Travel" is a small film, enjoyable for the camaraderie of a cast playing a bunch of chop-busting explorers.
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