PLOT: When an LAPD officer discovers a connection to his brother at a brutal crime scene, he digs deeper into the gang activity surrounding it in Los Angeles. Soon, he finds that his deceased brother had a few secrets involving a legendary figure, one that goes after the baddest of the bad in this corrupt, crime fueled world.
REVIEW: Low budget action flicks can be difficult to pull off. And I mean, really make the action and characters work on a visceral level. Oftentimes, because of the lack of funds, you come up short on something. It could be a terrible stunt coordinator, a messy script or even just a lousy lead actor, but this type of feature can be easy to mess up. And frankly, that was my fear with the new indie flick called EL CHICANO. This was especially true after hearing some of the negative word of mouth. Yet to my surprise, it was an enjoyable burst of gunfire and melodrama, with a fun sense of old fashioned vengeance. While the film offers hints of a modern political landscape and it’s affect on the Mexican culture in the US, it’s not a political film. This is a modern day superhero film, without massive effects and mind-blowing CGI, and an all Latino cast. And frankly, it’s pretty damn entertaining.
As children, Diego and his brother Pedro witnessed firsthand the legendary El Chicano. This masked man rides in on a motorcycle taking out criminals, and he then disappears into the night never to be captured or killed. Years later, Diego (Raul Castillo) is an LAPD officer hoping to fight crime and help good people. Unfortunately, his brother chose a different life, and was killed after serving time in prison. When word on the street that a lethal gang leader named Shotgun (David Castañeda) killed off several members of his crew, Diego finds that it traces back to his brother. This leads to a dangerous investigation into how Pedro may be involved, and the discovery of that masked man from years before. Diego’s search reveals that his brother may have more knowledge of El Chicano than he’d ever imagined. Soon, he begins to take up where this brother left off.
When it comes to modern day action films, they ofter feel dragged out and much too long. They tend to overstay their welcome. Yet EL CHICANO is an exception. Directed by Ben Hernandez Bray – with a screenplay by Bray and Joe Carnahan – this is a fast moving and enjoyable hour and forty minute watch. It harkens back to the violent action films of the 80’s and 90’s, the ones that proudly wore their R-rating with a sense of glee and easily clocked out within a similar runtime. While the budget for this is occasionally a bit noticeable, these type of movies always had a bit of a problem with that. Even still, there are a number of exciting shoot-outs and chase sequences. And by the time the final sequence arrives, it’s actually shocking that it runs over an hour and a half.
The performances here are better than expected. Raul Castillo is a solid choice as Diego, and he can even pull off the stunt work rather well – however, much of that can likely be traced to an impressive stunt team. Castañeda chews the scenery a bit as Shotgun, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a villain in this type of piece – and frankly I dug that. And as Diego’s partner, Jose Pablo Cantillo plays off his co-star really well. The actor is sympathetic enough that you actually care about the fate of his character. And Marlene Forte is the perfect choice as a mother who seems to resent her living son, and still mourns the loss of Pedro. As well, George Lopez, Sal Lopez, Aimee Garcia and Kate del Castillo round out an impressive cast for an action crime thriller such as this.
While you can certainly nitpick, and this blast of old school action may not please everyone, EL CHICANO entertains. One issue involves Diego’s transformation into the mythical hero, it’s a bit unrealistically quick. Once he goes into full heroic mode, it feels like they missed out on the typical training montage for a believable transition – on second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all. And occasionally the story feels a bit convoluted with the warring gangs and the piling up of bodies from both sides. Yet even still, I sort of appreciated the larger than life, yet realistically grounded way that Bray and Carnahan create this world. It’s more than refreshing to see a hero that doesn’t seem to be impossible to injure or kill. As well, the action sequences are exciting, especially for a limited budget.
The old school vibe of EL CHICANO is reminiscent of the hardcore action flicks of yesteryear, and frankly I was down for it. Raul Castillo leads a solid, all Latino cast, and he does a nice job at creating a charismatic hero (or perhaps an anti-hero). And while there is a ton of violence, it didn’t feel excessive, and the action is handled quite well. There may be a few issues with story and the transformation of Diego, but it doesn’t distract too much. Ultimately, Bray – who has directed several television shows including episodes of Supergirl and Arrow – has crafted an entertaining, modern day superhero feature. It may be a bit melodramatic and perhaps even too short, but frankly, it’s the kind of flick to just sit back and enjoy. There’s no need to think too hard about what’s happening on-screen. This is pure old school action, and if you miss the old Stallone flicks like COBRA or Bronson movies like DEATH WISH, you’re likely to groove on this.