4 July 2018 | movieswithgreg
Not what you'd expect.
I gotta say I didn't see this one coming. What started as a light six rating, throwaway reason to stay up later than I should with an unknown movie I'd never heard of on cable, ended up being a solid 7+ rating, an oddly philosophic buddhist-in-the-barrio feel-good tale of existential fatalism and karma.
That sure sounds full of itself, but it's an unusual review for an unusual movie. It starts out like most any other straight-to-video undeniably B flick about latino millennials who grew up doing what hardcore gangsters do -- dope, sex, and violence. And it ends as a writer-director's vanity project where sexy but hard brown kids in the hood are substituted for sexy white thoughtful college kids doing dirty in the OC.
Don't get me wrong -- every actor in this looks like the real thing, albeit prettier like actors are. There's no problem with authenticity here. And even the dorm-room philosophizing that creeps up on you in the third act, that seems so uncharacteristic, so against "type" that it would flop embarrassingly when delivered by many other actors under other directors, manages to work in this movie.
The violence feels quick, simple and real, and very thankfully, doesn't overplay its cinematic hand that way so many LA crime flicks do (like STREET KINGS). It also doesn't cheat us with fancy quick-cuts ala the Bournes. It doesn't say "look how cool I am" like the Wicks. It just feels like ugly, blink-of-an-eye unadorned pain that wasn't there a second ago, but is all you can feel now.
As you'd expect with such an unknown film, the "name" actors are there for flavor, to "class up" the place with meaty character portrayals that come and go. Who'd ever think that Danny Trejo would be the guy who classes up an otherwise obscure project with a cameo?
Best of all, the writer-director and actor ensemble perform a neat hat trick -- they get you to like and even respect them, but unlike most movies, they don't try to charm you into liking them. You just do, on THEIR terms. It's a neat feat that I rarely see in non-art films.
No, this still isn't one of those "oh my god you gotta check out this gem!" cinematic finds. It's still a slicker version of what used to be a drive-in movie, with solid visual indie production values, satisfactory pacing, dialogue that makes sense -- and most importantly for me -- didn't have any obvious "oops" moments or gag-worthy creative decisions that make you groan. To me it would have held most interest as an A-list producer who's looking for new talent in writer-directors to drop 30 mil on. Toward that purpose, I bet this movie's writer-director will be stepping out in the years to come.