Playing a negligent mother isn't usually the way to get ahead in the acting biz, but the elfin Michelle Monaghan must have seen "Trucker" as her vehicle out of the ingenue parking lot of sidekicks and potential hostages.

Playing a negligent mother isn’t usually the way to get ahead in the acting biz, but the elfin Michelle Monaghan must have seen “Trucker” as her vehicle out of the ingenue parking lot of sidekicks and potential hostages. A tale of a mother suddenly saddled with the son she’d never wanted, helmer James Mottern’s drama of maternal awakening could stir a few heartstrings, and its decent cast could keep it chugging along, vis-a-vis B.O. For most of the trip, however, it’s spinning its narrative wheels.

Thanks to her sexy/boyish looks, Monaghan, who’s been the subordinate female lead in “Mission Impossible III,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” makes a convincingly hard case as Diane Ford, a long-haul trucker with very little sentiment in her system and a few hard miles behind her. When her ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) gets colon cancer, his wife (Joey Lauren Adams) has to prevail upon Diane to take care of her son. It’s not a happy arrangement for anyone.

From here, “Trucker” begins its long breakdown. Peter (Jimmy Bennett) is not so much confused as confusing, his anger at his mother too of-the-moment and petulant for a kid who’s had years to stew over his abandonment (and who has not, apparently, ever been told a kind word about his mom). And he’s got a pretty foul mouth for a kid everyone refers to as well-adjusted. Add the fact that young Bennett doesn’t bring much to Mottern’s flaccid script and what you’ve got is a character you’d like to strap to the hood of a diesel-burning Peterbilt and drive to Phoenix.

Monaghan is a talent, but she, too, has trouble finding a rhythm in the dialogue, or any sustained emotional plausibility in a film that relies on character-driven moments rather than narrative momentum. And there’s simply not enough between the lines for writer-director Mottern to get away with such a slight story.

Like a runaway tractor-trailer, “Trucker” is carrying Diane directly from irresponsible to maternally alert. You can’t stop it. You can see it on the horizon as soon as the movie starts. What’s missing from the payload is surprise.

“Trucker” also takes a long time to shift out of first gear, long enough to set up, at length, Diane’s unorthodox relationship with Runner (Nathan Fillion), a married local with whom she shares a lot of time and a lot of drinks. Fillion is good as the frustrated lover, who eventually shows he has a gentle way with the kid, and his mother, too.

Tech credits are adequate, and lensing suitably grainy for the story.

Trucker

Production

A Plum Pictures presentation in association with Hart-Lunsford Pictures. Produced by Celine Rattray, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Scott Hanson. Executive producers, Pamela Hirsch, John Allen, Ed Hart, Bruce Lunsford, Reagan Silber, Michelle Monaghan, Frank Frattaroli, Robert Kessel. Co-producers, Carina Alves, Joy Goodwin, Riva Marker. Directed, written by James Mottern.

Crew

Camera (color), Lawrence Sher; editor, Deirdre Slevin; music, Mychael Danna; production designer, Cabot McMullen; set decorator, Beth Wooke; costume designer, Johanna Argan; sound, Dennis Grzesik; supervising sound editor, Lewis Goldstein; visual effects, John Bair, Edgeworx; assistant director, Daniel Shultz. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 25, 2008. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Diane Ford - Michelle Monaghan Runner - Nathan Fillion Len - Benjamin Bratt Jenny - Joey Lauren Adams Peter - Jimmy Bennett

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