It sounds like the perfect setup for a legendary tasteless joke: A boy with Tourette’s, an anorexic girl, and an obsessive-compulsive neat freak steal a car and head for the beach. Had writer-director Gren Wells shown just a tad more irreverence or daring or creativity, The Road Within could have provided a whopper of a punchline.
But this is, of course, a movie about affliction, and it ultimately succumbs to the bland, sentimental uplift we’ve come to expect from such outings. After his mother dies, Vincent (Robert Sheehan) is installed at a mental institution by his cold, career-obsessed father (Robert Patrick, of Terminator 2 fame).
The twitch- and temper-tantrum-prone Vincent quickly becomes the bane of his control-freak roommate Alex’s (Dev Patel) existence, though they clearly care about each other. After the sultry, rail-thin resident Marie (Zoë Kravitz) gets her hands on coordinator Kyra Sedgwick’s car keys, the three take off for an antagonistic, virtually surprise-free odyssey.
It’s The Odd Couple meets Rain Man meets Benny & Joon, as Marie and Vincent strike up a tentative romance, lose patience with Alex, and then warm-heartedly try to bring Alex out of his phobic shell. Wells’s few attempts at shock value — in separate, profane fits, Vincent calls his priest a pedophile and Alex a succession of racial slurs — are wan and forced. None of the characters are fleshed out enough to absorb or even amuse. And if this is the last film wherein white noise blocks out the sound during a beatdown scene, we’ll be better off for it.