Review by James Lindorf
American Dresser reunites Tom Berenger and Keith David, who first acted together in Platoon, as a pair of Vietnam vets setting off on an epic motorcycle trip from Long Island to Oregon. Cinedigm purchased the distribution rights to this film that Carmine Cangialosi (The Beach House) directed, wrote and starred in, and will release the picture in select theaters and on VOD services September 21, 2018, with a Blu-ray and DVD release to follow in November.
Berenger plays John Moore, a potentially retired man who recently lost his wife of 30 years, played in flashbacks by Gina Gershon. Overcome with grief, John turns to alcohol as a way to dull the pain, but only results in pushing his two daughters away. When he discovers a letter that his wife had kept hidden for the length of their relationship, he decides the only way he can come to terms with her secret and his future is to hit the open road. Plans to make the trip alone are quickly dashed, as his best friend, Charlie (David), joins him from the start. Charlie yearns for one more life-changing ride before his leg is amputated, due to an injury from a previous motorcycle accident. After some mechanical and personal issues, they are joined by the mysterious Willie, who is good at fixing bikes, and even better in a fight. The newly formed trio spends the rest of the film heading west towards their individual goals and through a series of adventures and misadventures.
The film features a fleet of known actors (Bruce Dern, Penelope Ann Miller, and Jeff Fahey) who serve as roadside attractions. They are there to add character to the film but don’t progress the story in any meaningful way. Bruce Dern is a quirky Korean War veteran who is in a tight spot, when the guys offer him a hand in exchange for a story. Penelope Ann Miller serves as a reminder of what’s gone and what could be. Charlie has his fiancé to get home to, and even though his wife is gone, maybe John could be interested in another woman again. Jeff Fahey is a reminder of the ugliness in the world that always exists, despite who you are and what your intentions might be.
The entire film is exquisitely shot. Cinematographer Jesse Brunt did a fantastic job displaying the varying beauty of the American countryside, from Long Island to Bend, Oregon, and all the detours along the way. Keith David’s Charlie is clearly the highlight of the film for me. His character was easily given the most range. He smartly avoided using a Long Island accent that could have the potential to come and go. His character also provided the humor. Berenger’s character is in mourning, and while John has the occasional good day, he spends most of the film in grumpy introspection. Willie is a bit of a nonentity. He is vital to the story, but because you cannot trust anything you learn about him, it leaves you feeling cold, no matter how hot most of the women in the film find him.
The movie trucks along with some inconsistencies in what is an overall enjoyable ride. However, around the 1-hour mark, there is the most unnecessary plot line I have seen in a long, long time. It all starts with a story about their days in the military, which acts as a set up for what is about to unfold. After an incident at a hotel, Charlie comes face to face with Jeff Fahey’s Calhoun, a racist sheriff who wants nothing more than a reason to lock up, or preferably kill, Charlie. The plot line is just so gratuitous, and as quickly and unexpectedly it arrives, it ends almost as abruptly with no lasting consequences for anyone involved. Maybe it was Cangialosi’s way of showing how absurd racism is, which he achieved, but it also added some ridiculousness to the film right before the climax.
American Dresser has some issues, from too many mysteries surrounding the wife, to under-developing Willie, to the way it unceremoniously drops Charlie from the film. However, this is still a better film than The Wild Hogs, the last “old buddies on bikes” movie. You can’t deny that Carmine has grown as a director, and he shouldn’t have to wait another 16 years to release his next film.
In theaters and On Demand now.