Picks and Pans Review: Traveling Man

updated 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sunday, June 25, 9 P.M. ET)

C-

John Lithgow stars as a burned-out industrial-foam salesman who travels the South by car in this original, nearly two-hour movie, directed by Irvin (The Empire Strikes Back) Kershner. Although the drama starts out in the fast lane, it quickly pulls off the road, puts its hood up and waits for help that never comes.

If only the excitement level of the opening scene could have been sustained! In it, Lithgow attends a monthly sales meeting at his company's headquarters in Atlanta, with the charismatic John (An Early Frost) Glover playing a crazed district sales manager who makes Attila the Hun look like Perry Como. To get his salesmen charged up, Glover delivers an adrenaline-boosting pep talk while firing pistol shots overhead. Conflict arises when Glover assigns Lithgow a hotshot young trainee, played by Jonathan (Broadway Bound) Silverman, to take on the road. They become rivals, although there's little snap, crackle or pop between them.

But where the episodic story really fails to ignite is when Lithgow falls in love with a marina boat operator, played by Margaret (Three Men and a Baby) Colin. Even though their affair takes place in New Orleans against the backdrop of Mardi Gras, there's no magic in the air. Lithgow, an actor of enormous appeal, seems washed out in this role. And be warned, the film contains strong language. Chynna Phillips—John and Michelle's daughter—has an amusing supporting role as a coed who videotapes her lovemaking session with Lithgow in order to study it for a behavioral science project. Let's hope she got a better grade than this film.

Jeff Jarvis is on special assignment.

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