'Motorcycle Diaries' gets lost on journey of discovery

Published October 15, 2004 12:34 am
'Motorcycle Diaries' gets lost on journey of discovery
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The journey of the young Che Guevera is chronicled, but the movie never makes its destination.

Rated R for language; in Spanish with subtitles; 127 minutes.

Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.


The scenario is so familiar that it has transcended clich to become an icon: Two young adventurers hit the road on a motorcycle to see the world and discover themselves.

But "The Motorcycle Diaries" aims to be more than a South American "Easy Rider" because it is a fact-based story that chronicles the political awakening of one of its adventurers, Ernesto "Che" Guevera. But alas, the movie's reach extends its grasp.

Ernesto (played by the devastatingly handsome Gael Garc'a Bernal) is a 23-year-old medical student in Buenos Aires who leaves with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), a 29-year-old biochemist, on a 12,000-plus-kilometer tour around South America. Ernesto is shy, asthmatic and still tied to home - namely, his mother, to whom he writes, and his upper-class girlfriend (Mia Maestro). Alberto is the livelier of the two, frequently attempting to woo women on the dance floor.

The farther they travel, the more people they meet - from migrant miners abused by an insensitive corporation to patients at a leper colony segregated from their doctors by the Amazon - to awaken their sense of social injustice. At one point, Alberto speaks of mounting a peaceful revolution, to which Ernesto replies, "A revolution without guns? It will never work."

Alas, that's about all the hint director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera give that the wide-eyed Ernesto will grow up to become Che, the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera who was Castro's compadre and the face that adorned a million college dorms. And without that revolutionary fire - the sense of how Che came to embrace violence as a tool of social change - "The Motorcycle Diaries" is just a coming-of-age drama in the guise of a meandering travelogue.

Sure, it's a beautiful travelogue, as Salles ("Central Station") shows the serene wonders of Machu Picchu and the sultry beauty of the Andes. Garc'a Bernal and especially de la Serna, who provides the movie's spark and energy, make for welcome traveling companions. But the trip is too episodic, with long stretches between the interesting parts, and ultimately pointless. This may be the beginning of Che's journey, but at the end a viewer is still left asking, "Are we there yet?"


Rodrigo de la Serna and Gael Garc'a Bernal, front, take off on a trip of discovery through South America in "The Motorcycle Diaries."



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