The Way takes a long, spiritual journey

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      Starring Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, and Deborah Kara Unger. Rated PG.

      Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way never explicitly endorses any specifically religious impulses while gently, if insistently, pushing the idea of pilgrimage. It's also a star vehicle for his dad, Martin Sheen (birth name: Ramon Estevez), who is also a practising Catholic and outspoken social activist.

      Sheen plays Tom, a California eye doctor with a vision problem when it comes to son Daniel (Estevez, seen in flashbacks), who has dropped out of grad school to undertake a walking journey along the Pyrenees, known variously as the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James.

      When Daniel is killed by a freak storm before reaching Spain, Tom flies to western France, where a friendly police captain (Tchéky Karyo) conveniently recounts the history of the ancient pilgrim's route. The grief-stricken man gathers his son's ashes, as well as his North Face gear, and spontaneously decides to finish the tour. Tom never yields his motivation, and, in fact, he stays pretty miserable throughout—not that we blame him, given the company he's handed.

      A food-obsessed Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) who keeps popping up is fairly sympathetic, but most of us would happily jettison a constantly blathering Irish travel writer (James Nesbitt) and a pointlessly angry Canadian woman played by a scarily emaciated Deborah Kara Unger, seemingly paid in cigarettes for her part.

      With these three caricatures tagging along on his personal Yellow Brick Road, it's no wonder Tom never really reaches the Emerald City, even if he does have some kind of spiritual epiphany. Thanks to Estevez's sketchy screenwriting, we don't know enough about Tom's life back in Kansas, I mean Ventura, to care about what difference the Way makes. The filmmaker instead has James Taylor and other soundtrackers do the emotional work, and it's hard to see how the flatly shot story is helped by having Estevez himself as the ghostly presence. Perhaps they didn't want us to think they were wishing Charlie Sheen out of their lives.

      Watch the trailer for The Way.