By Phil Hall | March 29, 2004

“The Middle of the World” is a dull film, inspired by a true story, about an unemployed Brazilian truck driver who traveled with his wife and five children on bicycles across a 2,000 mile journey in search of employment. Along the way, this family on wheels encountered the full spectrum of the human condition, from acts of deep and selfless charity to displays of cruelty and violence. The difficult trip creates frictions between the trucker and his wife and between the man and his eldest son, a teenager who begins to feel his rebellious nature emerge while his eyes focus on the lovely girls along the road.

Watching people ride bicycles is not the most interesting activity (sorry about that, Lance Armstrong), and too much of “The Middle of the World” is intensely snooze-inducing as the family peddles slowly down seemingly endless roads. The only genuine drama comes when they get off their bicycles and encounter mini-melodramas which run the gamut from panhandling via off-key singing at a cafE to snagging brief bits of menial labor to earn some cash. The father-teen son conflict takes up a lot of running time, though it is somewhat distracting because the father (played by Wagner Moura) looks more like a European male model than the average Brazilian unemployed truck driver while the son (Ravi Ramos Lacerda) looks like a mixed-race version of Screech from “Saved by the Bell” — the genetic bond between the pair doesn’t seem too visible.

Even more disturbing is the notion that “The Middle of the World” is little more than 85 minutes of continuous child abuse. The children of this story are exposed to hunger, thirst, homelessness, physical danger, emotional instability and the most grueling land odyssey imaginable. Filmmaker Vicente Amorim barely acknowledges this element of the story, but anyone with a heart and brain will be more than alarmed at the manner in which children are treated here.

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