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At the Loews Cineplex Foundry to Sept. 3

In 1993, Eric Saperston, then a sweet-natured 24-year-old filmmaker fresh out of college, bought a 1971 Volkswagen bus and set off across America to interview “extraordinary people”—Jimmy Carter, Ann Richards, Jerry Garcia, and 173 others—who could provide the youth of today with a little hard-earned wisdom. With the help of a few ride-along friends, an extremely patient golden retriever, and funding from UPS and AAA, the naive hippie (first seen hawking grilled-cheese sandwiches for extra cash) aimed to create “Road Rules with a purpose” and, in turn, “build a bridge between two generations.” That this eight-years-in-the-making bridge ultimately led not to the Meaning of Life but to a bloated, bitter Henry Winkler—who, by setting up Saperston with a big-money meeting at Disney, quickly turns the young director into a tantrum-throwing prima donna who screws over his friends and sucks up to Billy Crystal—is all part of the perverse (but fleeting) thrill of watching The Journey, an indie film that intends to celebrate our elders but is actually an unintended travelogue of a youthful idealist’s descent into prickdom. Sure, give the vainglorious Saperston credit for tenacity: By tirelessly working pay phones in various rest stops, he manages to land time with myriad heavy hitters, including then-Coca-Cola CEO Donald Keough, who solemnly imparts, “What separates those who achieve from those who do not is in direct proportion to one’s ability to ask for help.” And if not exactly enlightening, many of the interviews do have an odd charm: Richards kicks Saperston’s ass in checkers, Ken Kesey corrects the filmmaker’s grammar, and former FBI Director Bill Sessions quotes Winnie-the-Pooh. Still, there hasn’t been a documentarian this unlikable since that creep from 20 Dates. While pretending to listen to his subjects, the pudgy, preening Saperston gets more cut-away reaction shots than Mike Wallace. And despite the do-unto-others advice that usually closes the feel-good meetings, the director is too often seen berating his near-tears crew, one of whom “resigns” halfway through the trek over a minor sound glitch. Obviously, Saperston, whose movie quickly becomes as unbearable as its star, fails to see the overt irony in his efforts: His doddering grandmother is often used for cheap comic relief, and just seconds before inking that contract with Disney, he boasts in a stiff voice-over, “This had never been about money or deals or agents.” Only when he’s pitching a spinoff show to a bored TV exec does Saperston wise up to his project’s true worth: “I don’t think you could listen to this stuff for an hour.” The Journey, it should be noted, is 90 minutes long. —Sean Daly