Four squabbling survivors join an AIDS bike-a-thon to scatter their late friend’s ashes in the amiable, if pat, “The Unknown Cyclist.” By-the-numbers laughter and tears, plus cast’s modest marquee value, make this slick, earnest contrivance best suited for broadcast berths.
Story begins at a West Hollywood wake where partygoers celebrate the life of Christopher Cavatelli, the apparently much-loved founder of a local community center. He left behind two “widows” who are now best pals — ex-wife Melissa (Lea Thompson), a blocked writer killing time in nowhere day jobs, and Doug (Stephen Spinella), the lover he left her for — plus mutual friend Gaetano (Danny Nucci), a party boy spinning out of various addiction-controls.
Chris’ coming out had left him estranged from his family back East, and they did not reconcile before his death. So Doug is resentful when Frank (Vincent Spano), the deceased’s identical-twin brother (and a macho NYPD-employed hetero) , shows up. Melissa is more conciliatory, and also reluctantly attracted to this doppelganger.
The tense foursome are unhappily surprised by Chris’ last wish — that they all sign up for a 450-mile, five-day charity ride up the California coast, releasing his ashes en route.
Predictable funny-sad episodes unfold: Frank must confront his homophobia; Gaetano falls off the wagon after learning he’s HIV-positive; rudderless Melissa feels more indecisive than ever after sleeping with Frank; a pit stop in Doug’s hometown forces him toward a long-delayed familial coming out (Lainie Kazan and Scott Atkinson play the parents). Central figures settle their differences in time for a cursory finish-line fade-out.
Pic starts in a rather screechy sitcom mode, then relaxes somewhat as these out-of-shape urbanites hit the back roads. But character depths, overall arc and performances remain pretty canned — Thompson, in particular, delivers an artificial gamut of crinkly-cute emotions that don’t stray far enough from her “Caroline in the City” tube terrain. There are embarrassing scenes, like the appearance of a stereotypically sassy black drag queen, and a treacly bit wherein Mexican migrant workers humbly fork over cash “por SIDA.”
Despite protagonists’ ostensible quirkiness, main problem here is that scenarists Howard Skora, Betsy Pool and Matthew Carlisle manufacture emotions in a strictly formulaic way. (One relatively adventurous idea is having Doug accidentally dose himself with Gaetano’s LSD stash, though this proves rather gratuitous and unfunny.) Hence the few poignant moments are overshadowed by a pervasive sticky, greeting-card sentimentality.
Actors are generally OK, albeit hemmed in by the prefab script; Michael J. Pollard makes a brief, bizarre impression as the lawyer who executes Chris’ will. Cinematographer and first-time director Bernard Salzman provides a glossy surface, and he certainly makes the California coastline look inviting. Other tech credits are pro. Feature’s well-meaningbut very conventional tenor is defined by soundtrack use of goopy power ballads from the likes of Valerie Carter and the late Nicolette Larson, who gets a dedication in closing credits.