Painfully sincere but hopelessly amateurish, “In Search of the American Dream” is a long and technically ragged indie about Hispanic siblings driven to extremes after their undocumented parents are arrested during a raid by immigrations agents. Multihyphenate Baldemar Rodriguez obviously wants to earn points for attempting to deal with thorny moral and legal issues — specifically, the dilemmas facing American-born children of illegal immigrants. But for all its good intentions, the pic proves unworthy of its subject matter. Limited theatrical runs will lead to home-screen exposure, then oblivion.
After their parents are nabbed while seeking fake documentation, mechanic David Martinez (Rodriguez), his teen sister Angelica (Shaina Sandoval) and their three younger siblings become fugitives to avoid being separated by child welfare authorities. Since David, like his mom and dad, isn’t a legal citizen, he opts to hit the road with his U.S.-born brothers and sisters, driving his clunker car from Houston, with only the vaguest notion of a final destination.
Even as Angelica pouts over being separated from her Anglo boyfriend, David strives to put on a happy face and convince the younger children that they’re on a “vacation.” But the road trip takes a turn for the worse when, during a traffic stop on a back road, David tussles with, and inadvertently wounds, a trigger-happy highway patrol officer.
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Directing from his own lumpy, overloaded screenplay, Rodriguez occasionally recalls the desperate journeys taken by Depression Era outlaws in dramas such as “They Live by Night,” and the fatalistic scenarios of film noir. But his best efforts are repeatedly hobbled by slack pacing, flat dialogue and inability to sustain a consistent tone.
Late in the story, when things seem especially bleak, Rodriguez actually tries to wring laughs from Angelica’s impulsive attempt to rob a drug store clerk at gunpoint. And then he treats the hold-up as cause for riotous celebration — complete with upbeat musical accompaniment — in the getaway car. At this point, some audience members may be forgiven for shouting rude things at the screen.
The acting ranges from barely adequate to laughably stiff, while production values are non pro.