Driving cross-country by yourself is a quintessential American experience. Whatever else there is to say about The Brown Bunny, the second movie Vincent Gallo has written, directed, and starred in, it's hard to deny that Gallo has caught the freedom and melancholy, the intoxicating aimlessness, the lonely twilight beauty of a solo road trip in a way that no previous filmmaker quite has. Gallo, with his swept-back hair, a mouth that never smiles, and a stare that might look psychotic if it weren't so sad, plays a motorcycle racer named Bud Clay who is returning from the East Coast to Los Angeles. There are endless views through his bug-spattered van windshield as he drives through his old neighborhood or heads down a sunset highway. Set to songs like Gordon Lightfoot's ''Beautiful,'' the film achieves a piquant mood of longing and loss. For most of ''The Brown Bunny,'' however, the mood simply gives way to more mood. I loved Gallo's first film, ''Buffalo '66,'' and I can only guess how The Brown Bunny looked during its infamously disastrous 2003 Cannes press screening, when it contained an additional half hour of mostly wordless drifting. The version that is finally opening in theaters still has the rarefied air of a sophomore indulgence, yet Gallo's talent is there in every frame. The film is seductively shot, the images lovingly burnished with '70s-style grain, and Gallo knows just how to draw you inside his magnetic severity. By the time Bud, back in L.A., reunites with his former girlfriend, played by Chloë Sevigny, the movie has built up a true curiosity about what went wrong between them, and the answer is surprising and moving. The scene in which Sevigny graphically performs oral sex on Gallo, however, is neither.