Releasing a movie about a Mexican-American family torn apart by deportation during the 2016 presidential election, when immigration and a border wall are heated topics, might have been an indie-film coup if In Search of the American Dream weren’t so dated — or so inept.
Shot between 2008 and 2012 and finally reaching theaters four years later, Baldemar Rodriguez’s debut feature has more in common with cheapie action fare than thoughtful films about crossing the Rio Grande.
Even as he employs the innocents-into-outlaws cliché, Rodriguez can’t bring himself to make anyone a villain. The system may not be fair, a cop tells David Martinez (Rodriguez), but it’s the only one we’ve got. When David’s parents are arrested while trying to secure fake citizenship papers, he isn’t allowed to care for his U.S.-born siblings because he’s also undocumented. So David goes on the run with a car full of kids, driving the back roads of Texas while trying to hatch a plan that will keep the family intact.
This 142-minute film is overstuffed with storylines that go nowhere and characters who are little altered by their experiences. Petulant Angelica (Shaina Sandoval) trades cheerleading for armed robbery, but she remains a thoughtless teen. Only twelve-year-old Alex (Jeremy Becerra) begins to grasp his big brother’s anguish and inability to right wrongs.
Amid the painfully stilted adult performances, Rodriguez is warm and appealing as a befuddled romantic who can’t comprehend the daunting dilemmas faced by immigrants (legal or otherwise). He’s less successful as writer and director, decrying the criminalization of ordinary people by clumsily offering up a sacrificial lamb.
In Search of the American Dream
Directed by Baldemar Rodriguez
Opens September 2, Cinema Village