The Old Guys Ride genre of “road picture” isn’t a new thing.
And “American Dresser” adds nothing new to the font of knowledge that, say, “Wild Hogs” fertilized.
A soapy, tame and dramatically-thin cross country odyssey, it’s “Last Flag Flying” on two wheels. “Dresser” gives us Tom Berenger and Keith David on two “dressers,” loaded touring bikes built for comfort, on a ride from Long Island to the West Coast.
The pleasures of some good acting by Berenger and David, Gina Gershon and Bruce Dern doesn’t overcome the over-familiarity of the journey, the stops along the way and the late life lessons learned as they “keep the chrome up,” or try to. It’s tired in every sense of the word.
We meet John (Berenger) as he’s late to his wife’s funeral. An alcoholic disappointment to his daughters, drinking as he reads a long-lost letter his late wife (Gershon) never sent him, he resolves to polish up his “dresser” and hit the road.
David is Charlie, his foul-mouthed “master sergeant” from back in Vietnam. Charlie’s about to lose a leg, and he “tags along” on this “last chance for the ride of a lifetime.”
The geezers hit biker bars, where “Redeck Pride” is the ethos and the Outlaws and Lynyrd Skynyrd never left the jukebox,. Dealing with belligerent “inbreeds” is how they meet Willie (writer-director Carmine Cangialosi).
A favorite moment — Willie looks them over and asks, “You guys were in Vietnam? You see any action?”
Berenger fixes him with a weary glower that says, “You didn’t see ‘Platoon,’ Sonny?”
Modest budget is no cardinal sin in the cinema, and if you choose to spend your limited funds on getting that shot of driving the road below Mount Rushmore and more on an afterthought scene at the famous Sturgis, S.D. biker rally, so be it.
But with cameos by Bruce Dern, Penelope Anne Miller and Jeff Fahey to get to, Cangialosi is his own worst enemy — or casting decision. “Willie” is forever taking a dramatic, slow drag on a cigarette or joint, taking too long to get to his line, vanity touches that are ill-suited to a film embracing the ageing Harley demographic that the picture celebrates and preaches to. He’s just not interesting as a character or an actor playing that character, even if Willie’s function is to be the “muscle” in a bar brawl, the love interest for a lady biker (Becky O’Donohue) whose path they cross on the blacktop.
Fahey chose not to get a regulation haircut before playing a rush-to-judgement, suspects-beating small town police chief That’s one good message “Dresser” delivers to its potential audience, one they don’t want to hear. A lot of cops in a lot of places away from media watchdogs figure they have license to do what they please with black folks.
“What is WRONG with you people? He’s a Vietnam veteran!”
Dern drops in as a homeless biker now living in a van and adds a little grizzled sparkle to the dramedy. Gershon, seen in flashbacks, has a lovely moment of hiding the grief of a scary phone call she won’t share with her husband — bad news about the disease that will kill her.
Everybody has a “past,” everybody has a crutch (Cangialosi’s prop cigarette, Berenger’s bottle, David’s profanity).
Aside from that, and figuring out which simple riding along scenes required stunt doubles and actors sitting on bikes on trailers (I’m not sure KD is up to it these days), there isn’t much other than scenery to recommend “American Dresser.”
MPAA Rating: unrated
Credits: Written and directed Carmine Cangialosi. A Cinedigm release.
Running time: 1:37