A man who seemingly has everything unexpectedly leaves his wife and small son to embark on a journey of self-discovery.
Cal (Billy Crudup) has led a fairly charmed life. Handsome and charismatic, he has a successful career, a beautiful wife and an adorable son. Yet something eludes him, something he can't put his finger on. Instead of going into therapy, he decides to jump in the car and hit the road, leaving his perfect life behind him. Even though Cal is plagued by guilt for abandoning his family, he is propelled to continue looking for something ''better.'' He embarks on a series of adventures, meeting different people along the way--people who, each in their own way, force Cal to look deep within himself. But when he meets Dulcie (Julianne Moore), an emotionally fragile woman who harbors a disturbing secret, the wake-up call finally rings. He wants to do ''one good thing'' by helping her but realizes it's already too late. His journey ultimately takes him to the one person from his past that just might help him find his way home.
Crudup is an actor who tends to shy away from major feature films, instead concentrating his efforts on smaller, personal films such as Jesus' Son and Waking the Dead. Of course, he hasn't been completely self-sacrificing and managed to star in one of 2000's best films, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, but nonetheless, Crudup seems comfortable in these little independents. Traveler is his film, and his tortured Cal is someone you actually root for, even if his actions are shallow. The characters he meets on his journey are comprised of a few actors and actresses we haven't seen in awhile, including Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as a lonely waitress and David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) as Cal's long-estranged father. James LeGros (Scotland, PA) also has a nice little cameo as a high-school acquaintance of Cal's who hasn't gotten over how Cal stole his girlfriend. As the meatiest of our protagonist's ''encounters,'' Moore is sufficiently haunting as Dulcie, propelling Cal to his final destination.
Even though the film lapses into what can only be called ''TV movie of the week'' fare--man searches for ''something better''--Traveler frames its action in an interesting fashion. Shaped into small vignettes as Cal travels across the country, each of his pit stops could be films in their own right. These scenes are what make the film and help keep it from turning into pure melodrama. Unfortunately, though, it still seeps in there. The people Cal meets and the experiences he has keep your attention, but the reasons he's out on the road in the first place seem to weigh the film down. The climactic scene with his estranged father, in which Cal realizes the error of his ways, almost kills the rest of the film. Sure, it would be nice to see Cal going back to his family and having them forgive him but, in a way, you hope he doesn't, just to make things different.
World Traveler is a road movie that takes a predictable look at a man grappling with life decisions, but it's the experiences he has along the way that make the film interesting.