The road not taken.

That’s definitely not the route "Bonneville" follows.

So don’t be fooled by the gals-in-sunglasses-hitting-the-road-in-a-vintage-convertible routine. "Thelma and Louise" it’s not.

Instead, "Bonneville" sticks to a soothingly familiar itinerary, providing a welcome showcase for a trio of terrific actresses: Oscar-winners Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, plus three-time nominee Joan Allen (who, one hopes, will join her "Bonneville" traveling companions in the winners’ circle someday soon).

As expected, they prove mighty good company along the way.

Which is fortunate, because there’s nothing much else in "Bonneville" that qualifies as something we haven’t seen before — as recently as this year’s Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman hit "The Bucket List."

Yet unlike that exercise in slick, feel-good fantasy, "Bonneville" manages to keep it real — sort of — as its central trio embarks on what turns out to be a life-changing odyssey for all of them.

"Bonneville" begins its cinematic journey in Pocatello, Idaho, where Arvilla (Lange) has returned from her latest, and last, globe-trotting adventure with her anthropologist husband, Joe, who died before they made it home.

Arvilla has promised to scatter his ashes at meaningful locations in their lives.

But Francine (Christine Baranski), Joe’s witchy daughter from his first marriage, has other ideas. She wants "Daddy" interred in Santa Barbara, Calif. — alongside her mother. And if Arvilla refuses, she can forget about staying in the Pocatello home she’s shared with the much-older Joe for 20 years. (That’s because Joe never quite got around to updating his will.)

So, reluctantly, Arvilla agrees to go along with Francine’s scheme. So do her best friends, sassy Margene (Bates) and starchy Carol (Allen), who plan to accompany their grieving pal to Santa Barbara and provide moral support.

They think they’ll be traveling by air.

Of course, if they did that, there would be no movie.

Instead, in the first of many contrivances, they hit the road in "Bonneville’s" title vehicle, a cherry-red 1966 Pontiac convertible that will transport them to Santa Barbara — with more than a few stops in between, from Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats to Las Vegas’ glittery Strip. (West Wendover, just across the Utah border, provides the casino interiors.)

Along the way, our travelers encounter a few memorable characters, notably a soulful young hitchhiker ("Lords of Dogtown’s" endearing Victor Rasuk) and a not-so-young trucker (a jaunty Tom Skerritt), who catches Margene’s eye — and vice versa.

Their adventures along the trail prompt everything from slapstick comedy to poignant reflections on the one-way passage of life.

In his first produced script, screenwriter Daniel D. Davis doesn’t exactly venture off the beaten path, but he demonstrates a good grasp of character interplay and lively dialogue. (Then again, it helps to have an all-star team like "Bonneville’s" on hand to deliver your lines — and automatically make them sound better.)

Director Christopher N. Rowley, also making his feature debut with "Bonneville," establishes an easy pace and capitalizes on the movie’s wide-open-spaces panoramas. But he wisely avoids turning the movie into a travelogue, keeping the focus where it belongs: on the movie’s enormously winning central trio.

As Arvilla, Lange balances her character’s bereavement and bravado with offhand grace, while Allen gives straight-arrow Carol a wide-eyed innocence that’s utterly beguiling.

Bates, meanwhile, swipes every scene she’s in — and, consequently, steals the entire movie — with the kind of rowdy humor designed to disguise the sad, sensitive side lurking beneath Margene’s boisterous surface.

Separately and especially together, these three make "Bonneville" a trip worth taking. Even if it seems, as it often does, that we’ve driven down this particular road many times before.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0272.

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