'The Road Within': LAFF Review

Three superb young actors try but fail to bolster a thin script.

The formulaic road-trip film features engaging performances from Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoe Kravitz.

Talented young performers can help to make a spotty story watchable. The Road Within, showcased at this year's Los Angeles Film Festival, derives from a 2010 German film called Vincent Wants to Sea, about a young man with Tourette's syndrome who wants to travel to the ocean to spread his mother's ashes. The road-trip format has been overworked and doesn't really get any revitalization here, but the three leading actors — Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoe Kravitz — are so skillful that they keep us engaged, at least until the formulaic nature of the piece wears us down. Writer-director Gren Wells has been an actress as well as a screenwriter, and she shows more gifts at working with the cast than at propelling a rather disjoined story. A small distributor might be interested, but box-office prospects are limited.

Vincent's primary caregiver was his mother, but after her death, his politician father (Robert Patrick) has little time to deal with his special needs and sends him off to an institution. There, Vincent is assigned to a roommate, Alex (Patel), who wears rubber gloves because of his obsessive compulsive disorder. Vincent also strikes up a friendship with Marie (Kravitz), who seems better adjusted at first but is suffering from anorexia. The clinic's director, Dr. Rose (Kyra Sedgwick), does not seem terribly helpful, so Vincent decides to steal her car to drive from Nevada to the California coast. Marie comes along, and they end up including Alex as well. Vincent's father joins forces with Dr. Rose to try to find them.

Sheehan, who is British, does an amazing job not just with the American accent but with capturing the physical manifestations of the ailment. (It is a slight flaw, however, that his Tourette's seems to vanish for extended periods of time when Vincent needs to be involved in more emotional scenes.) Kravitz, best known for her roles in Divergent and X-Men: First Class, manages to be abrasive and compassionate at the same time; she delivers a vibrant performance. But it may be that Patel is most impressive of all. The star of Slumdog Millionaire and the HBO series The Newsroom has never had a role this demanding, and he does astonishing work that reveals a whole new side of his talent.

The two adult actors also have significant roles. A budding romance between them is not one of the script's happiest inventions, and Sedgwick is a mite too cutesy in playing the flawed healer. But Patrick gives one of the strongest performances of his career; he is convincingly self-centered in the first part of the film but reveals surprising depths as the story continues.

It's the story itself that undoes the movie. Road pictures are by definition episodic, but this one is particularly weak in finding strong or compelling incidents that might complicate the simple narrative line of Vincent's journey to the sea. There are nice images of Yosemite and the central California coast, but the film seems far too distended. Fortunately, the actors find enough fresh and vivid moments to keep us interested in watching their odyssey even when the storytelling flounders.

Production: Amasia Entertainment, Troika Pictures, Coup d'Etat Films, Roberi Media

Cast: Robert Sheehan, Zoe Kravitz, Dev Patel, Robert Patrick, Kyra Sedgwick

Director-screenwriter: Gren Wells

Based on the screenplay by: Florian David Fitz

Producers: Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Robert L. Stein, Brent Emery, Guy J. Louthan

Executive producers: William Gallo, Viola Jager

Director of photography: Christopher Baffa

Production designer: Nanci Roberts

Costume designer: Magali Guidasci

Editor: Terel Gibson

Music: Josh Debney, The Newton Brothers

No rating, 101 minutes