Smallscreen producer-writer Brad Isaacs makes a gratingly cutesy helming debut with “Have Dreams, Will Travel,” a saccharine, 1961-set road pic involving a couple of unloved kids trekking from West Texas to Baltimore. Isaacs’ script doesn’t know who it’s pitched to, forcing young thesps to recite lines that would sound outrageously phony in the mouths of adults, let alone children; an unconvincing plot full of stereotypes doesn’t help, either. Val Kilmer’s presence is a welcome relief, but dreams alone won’t be enough for pic to travel beyond DVD shelves.
Narration by 12-year-old Ben (Cayden Boyd) gets pic off to a wrong start, describing his unsatisfactory family life in the kind of homespun-philosophizing tone that would sound false even on “The Waltons.” Movie-obsessed Mom (Lara Flynn Boyle, also co-producing) flagrantly carries on with both men and women — this is supposed to be a kids’ movie? — while remote Dad (Matthew Modine) ignores his son, barely focusing on running their cheap diner.
Enter Cassie (AnnaSophia Robb), sole survivor of a car wreck that killed her parents. Ben’s parents agree to look after her until she can be sent to her grandma’s, but the maddeningly loquacious girl convinces Ben to run away with her instead and live with her cool aunt and uncle in Baltimore. First stop is a pig farm owned by Henderson (Kilmer), who bemusedly performs a wedding ceremony for Cassie, ever the fabulist, and Ben.
Back on the road, they’re picked up by beatniks in a multicolored bus who are supposed to be Jack Kerouac (Jack Hurst) and Allen Ginsberg (Argos MacCallum), but the episode feels more like a Partridge Family tribute. They finally arrive in Baltimore, welcomed by Cassie’s hip aunt (Heather Graham, wasted) and uncle (Dylan McDermott, ditto), who seem to live among Mink Stole’s castoffs.
Episodic nature of the plot, replete with potholes, could almost be forgiven if the dialogue were less stilted. As it is, to borrow from Mary McCarthy, the only believable words coming out of these kids’ mouths are “and” and “the.” It’s difficult to know whether the cheesy situations are meant to be funny, and the final, serious revelation is hardly groundbreaking news.
Kilmer at least has the acting chops to make something of his lines, though his role is barely there. Robb has been making a specialty of precocious kids, but she fared much better in “Bridge to Terabithia”; here, she spouts unbearably grand phrases and is directed to overplay every scene.Blandly attractive lensing has no discernible visual style, while Cassie’s poorly staged black-and-white nightmare scenes add no tension. The impossibly sweet ending looks as though it were lifted from a “The Music of Your Life” commercial, complete with walk on the beach.