— Yes, yes, there are only seven basic stories, and there’s nothing new under the sun, ob-la-di, ob-la-dah, I get it. Authors and playwrights and filmmakers take familiar characters and situations and use them to tell new and different stories, because it’s all been done before.
But even with that caveat, “Trucker,” for all its good intentions, feels like a very familiar rehash of people and places we’ve seen before. A lot. Were it not for Michelle Monaghan’s convincingly dirt-under-the-fingernails performance in the title role, there would be absolutely nothing about the film to distinguish it from dozens of other movies about emotionally closed-off people whose lives change when they suddenly find themselves having to take care of a kid.
The closed-off person here is Diane (Monaghan), a fiercely independent long-haul trucker who is determinedly bound to no one and nothing but her rig. We first meet her having a sweaty and anonymous motel-room encounter with a truckstop waiter; in a reversal of the usual gender roles, he wants to talk and exchange e-mail addresses while she can’t get out of there fast enough.
Once Diane gets home to one of the flatter and scrubbier parts of Southern California, she heads out for a night on the town with Runner (Nathan Fillion), the one man she allows to get close to her; granted, he’s married, so even he comes with a certain unthreatening distance. Later, a drunken Diane is met at her door by Jenny (an underutilized Joey Lauren Adams), who informs Diane that her ex Leonard (Benjamin Bratt) is in the hospital and they need her to take care of Peter (Jimmy Bennett, “Shorts,” “Star Trek”) for a few days.
Peter is the child that Diane and Leonard had 10 years ago, the one whom Diane was more than happy to leave in Leonard’s care so she could take to the road. But now, with Leonard dying — Bratt looks like the heartiest terminal colon cancer patient ever — unwilling mom Diane must forge a bond with the recalcitrant son who doesn’t know her.
And from that point, you can pretty much guess everything that happens in “Trucker,” from the fighting to the caregiving, and so on. It’s gotten to the point where there should be a section at Blockbuster called “Kid Melts Heart of Crusty Adult” to officially mark its transition from overused plotline to full-on genre.
This is the kind of potty-mouthed, no-makeup kind of role that a certain breed of attractive actress has to take on at some point in her career if she wants to be taken seriously as a thespian, and Monaghan tackles the role full-on. There’s never a sense that she’s slumming or condescending to the working-class character, but even a performer this talented can do only so much with the trite screenplay by writer-director James Mottern.
Had Mottern managed to put some kind of novel spin on the material, “Trucker” would have a been a journey worth taking; as it is, it’s like being stuck driving from Abilene to Chicago with a flatulent smoker riding shotgun.
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.