At one point in American Dresser, one of the lead characters points out, “One thing never changes. Women love men on bikes.” Unfortunately, this road movie written and directed by Carmine Cangialosi seems determined to prove that theory wrong. Despite a fine cast featuring numerous screen veterans, this is a cliché-ridden effort that quickly runs out of gas.
Tom Berenger plays the lead role of John Moore, a Vietnam veteran with a drinking problem and a troubled relationship with his two grown daughters that doesn’t get any better after the death of his wife (Gina Gershon). After reading a letter that she had kept secret from him for many years, John impulsively decides to dust off his treasured motorcycle and embark on a cross-country trip. He intends to go alone, but when his best friend and former military comrade Charlie (Keith David) asks to come along, John relents. Seriously ill and facing the possible amputation of his leg, Charlie wants to go on one last “ride of a lifetime.”
Cue “Born to be Wild” (sorry, that’s Easy Rider) as the two grizzled oldsters plant themselves on their large touring motorcycles and head off in search of the sort of adventures that tend to only happen in movies like this. There’s lot of flirtatious banter with sexy waitresses and, you guessed it, a rootin’-tootin’ barroom brawl. You know, good times.
They also hook up with a stranger, Willie (director-screenwriter Cangialosi), who expresses a curious desire to accompany the old coots on their journey. Charlie is suspicious of the interloper and he would seem to have good reason, as evidenced by Willie’s icy reaction when a female police officer crosses his path. But that’s the only woman who doesn’t seem to melt upon encountering Willie’s macho charm, including a sexy female biker (Becky O’Donohue) with whom he immediately hooks up.
The episodic storyline includes John reuniting with an old flame (Penelope Ann Miller) for whom the fire has clearly not dimmed and an eccentric oldster (Bruce Dern) who lives in a van with “King of the Road” emblazoned on its side. More dramatically, Charlie winds up mistakenly arrested for murder and is beaten and tortured by the cops, including a sadistic police chief (Jeff Fahey), before they discover he didn’t do it.
All too reminiscent of far too many previous road pics, American Dresser fails to make much of an impression on any level, meandering along as if its GPS was malfunctioning. Cangialosi seems to have crafted the film as a vehicle for himself, but the self-adoration evident in his character’s endless coolness and irresistible appeal to women gives it the feel of a vanity project. And the revelation involving the reason for John’s cross-country journey proves underwhelming and the narrative resolution all too tidy.
There’s plenty of pretty scenery on display. But the sight of the beefy lead actors gamely holding on to their bikes while riding down America’s highways only makes a strong case for the relative dignity of SUVs.
Production companies: The Film House, Go With the Flo Films, Sprockefeller Pictures
Cast: Tom Berenger, Keith David, Carmine Cangialosi, Gina Gershon, Penelope Ann Miller, Bruce Dern, Jeff Fahey
Director-screenwriter: Carmine Cangialosi
Producers: Carmine Cangialosi, Ryan R. Johnson, Martin Sprock
Executive producers: Paula Barbara, Michael P. Haggerty, Rob Morgan
Director of photography: Jesse Brunt
Production designer: T.V. Alexander
Editor: Peter Devaney Flanagan
Composer: Mark Vanocur
Costume designer: Christy Lamb
Casting: Michael Hothorn