What to do with Michelle Monaghan? Since standing toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr. in the underseen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, she’s been miscast as dutiful love interests for Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller, yet it should be clear that this gifted performer—all legs and throaty laugh—burns for witticisms.
Trucker, a bruised independent film in which she plays Diane, a tough, emotionally guarded rig driver, isn’t the right idea either (though it at least confirms Monaghan’s depth). Granted, you fully believe she could swing herself up into the cab and barrel down the highway, but she has few opportunities to guffaw like a hyena and enjoy it.
James Mottern’s predictable plot—believably enriched by excellent location work in California’s struggling exurbs—attaches willful loner Diane to her estranged 11-year-old son, Peter (Bennett), after his father is hospitalized with cancer. Their early conversations are tricky (Peter declares that he doesn’t talk to “bitches”), but with the inevitable thaw comes a surfeit of gush and even heroism, with a final-act rape threat from out of nowhere. As the camera perches high on a hill at dawn, Diane’s truck sneaking out of town, you sense the Demme-esque working-class comedy that might have been.