2019, R, 92 min. Directed by Derrick Borte. Starring Jim Gaffigan, Robbie Jones, Isabel Arraiza, Tammy Blanchard, Alejandro Hernandez.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 20, 2019
Cam, a desperate loser (played credibly by the comedian Jim Gaffigan), has seen his American dream go kaput. Canned from his job, divorced from his wife (Blanchard), and allowed only court-ordered supervised visits with his child, Cam has taken to driving for the ridesharing app Hail in order to pay his alimony and child support (both of which are in arrears). Now he only dreams of escape (as indicated in the opening shot of Cam inside his car idly watching airplanes take off) rather than advancement. His dream ends whenever the app beckons him for a ride.
A little extra cash comes his way when he’s hired by Mazz (Jones), a low-level drug dealer, to drive exclusively for him. Mazz likes the idea of getting ferried around town in Cam’s nondescript sedan that has a smiley face hanging from the rearview mirror instead of a flashy vehicle that screams that it’s been fueled with illegal profits. The screenplay by director Derrick Borte and Daniel Forte draws some distinct comparisons between the foul-mouthed (prodigious use of the N-word included), pistol-whipping black gangster who goes home to a wife and son and Cam’s white, bottled-up failure whose skin grows redder and more itchy the hotter under the collar he gets. With his tousled strawberry blond hair, Gaffigan looks something like a rumpled and puffy version of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Love Liza or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
Before long, Cam hatches a lame-brained, get-rich-quick plan, which is telegraphed by the withdrawal of his meager funds from an ATM and his subsequent purchase of a balaclava and toy gun. Cam’s scheme, however, goes south practically from the get-go, further demonstrating what a loser the character is. The remainder of the film takes place primarily in Cam’s Chevy, as he drives Mazz and his girlfriend Marina (Arraiza) around town, while purposelessly misleading the couple to cover his own misdeeds yet still rake in some ill-gained profits.
Despite earning his bread and butter with genial comedy noted for its family-friendly language and humor, Jim Gaffigan performs laudably in this decidedly dark role. It’s as though he is revealing the angry and distempered underbelly of his warm and good-humored popular persona. It’s intellectually understandable, although that comedic presence lurks like an 800-pound gorilla in the vehicle. Although the comedy ape never breaks loose, if Gaffigan is going to play additional dark and amoral roles in the future, it may take him a while to build a career like Adam Sandler’s, which can be clearly divided into his comedy and dramatic performances. Borte films a great deal of American Dreamer in facial close-ups, which highlight the characters’ frenzies, but does little to expand the story beyond the car’s confines. And since none of the characters are terribly bright or likable, the experience of watching the film is like being trapped inside a locked car stuck in neutral.