A scatty, impressionistic and altogether too besotted love letter to the Beat sensibility, inspired by one of Neal Cassady's rambling, speed-driven missives to Jack Kerouac. It opens in cool black and white, with Neal (Thomas Jane) careening around his ratty room, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and listening to jazz. He finally settles at the typewriter, and the story of how he and suicidal beauty Joan (Claire Forlani) didn't live happily ever after begins. It's a beautifully photographed and utterly artificial evocation of the Beat mythos, in which men yearn to be free of society's stifling expectations and women -- no matter how liberated they may seem -- weigh them down. Young Neal abandons Joan in the hospital after she cuts her wrists (he's too sensitive to see her so wan and weak), starts working the night shift at Goodyear tires, takes up with wayward (and underage) schoolgirl Mary (Gretchen Mol), rolls around bars and pool halls with alcoholic Harry (Keanu Reeves) and generally makes a big mess of just about everything he touches. Neon gleams, smoke swirls, golden beer glows in thick glass mugs, Christmas lights twinkle in the frosty air: It's all intoxicating but oddly without perspective. Oddly because Cassady himself -- unlike the worshipful Kerouac, who helped deform him into a one-dimensional poster boy for antiestablishment defiance -- had a hard, clear-eyed sense both of what you gain and what you lose when you live life on the fringe.