Mark Reviews Movies


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Franc. Reyes

Cast: Rick Gonzalez, Wanda De Jesus, Dania Ramirez, Gary Perez, Antonio Ortiz, Tego Calderon, Jessica Pimentel, Manny Perez

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 8/24/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

There is a breed of movie that exists during which one can only scratch one's head to wonder how someone can so completely mishandle a simple concept. Illegal Tender is one of those movies. A basic thriller executed with not a thrill in sight or even the dullest inkling of ingenuity, the movie works against itself so well it achieves a sort of admiration. How could writer/director Franc. Reyes mess this up so much? His debut movie Empire was heavily flawed and similarly worked against itself by the end, but that movie had style, atmosphere, good performances, and a clever concept (the worlds of crime and business aren't too far removed). Illegal Tender is missing all of those elements, and some of it is just downright awkward. I'd like to sum the movie up to a case of hither and thither tone, but that would be misanalysis. The movie's tone is consistent, but Reyes just misses the mark completely. It's supposed to be a dark, unflinching look at innocence corrupted by past transgressions with a badass attitude, but the script is so formulaic, the atmosphere so bright, the acting so off, it's a bit of a mess.

Wilson De Leon (Manny Perez) is a drug dealer living in the Bronx. In 1985, he's about to make his last deal (but not before a strange montage connecting sex, money, and, uh, preparing the table for dinner). He's shot and killed under orders of his boss Javier Cordero (Gary Perez) (by two hit-women in bustiers, no less). The same night—no, scratch that—the same moment he's killed, his son is born. Twenty-one years later, the baby has grown into Wilson De Leon, Jr. (Rick Gonzalez), an allegedly intelligent (that comes into question a few times later on) young man, making his way through college in Connecticut. He has a girlfriend Ana (Dania Ramirez), who wants to move in with him, a younger brother Randy (Antonio Ortiz), who's smart but goes through his homework too quickly, and a mother Millie (Wanda De Jesus), who, well, we'll get to Mille later. One day at the grocery store, Mille runs into an old acquaintance from the old neighborhood and, upon returning home, gets ready to move. Wilson doesn't want to move, which prompts his mother to tell her son the truth about his father and that people are still after them.

Here's the first and possibly most incredibly awkward scene, as Mille reveals not only the truth about his father but also that she's been lugging around a huge safe that contains an arsenal of guns each and every time they're moved. Wilson starts to cry; Mille tries to put the fear of God into him. It's not played for laughs, but Wanda De Jesus is so campy and hamming it up so much in this role, that's the only logical result. Here's our first hint that maybe Wilson isn't as smart as his simple character background suggests he is, as he and Ana finally move in together—into the same house where his mother has just told him that there are thugs from New York trying to hunt and kill his entire family. Sure enough, thugs show up (Ana helpfully yells at Wilson from their hiding spot, even after it's obvious these people are trying to kill them), and thankfully, the residents in this upscale neighborhood don't hear the multiple shots fired or see a woman dragging a wounded man in the middle of the street with Wilson pointing guns at them.

This isn't the end, though, and after Wilson goes down to Puerto Rico to meet Javier (seriously, this kid isn't smart), Millie asks if he wants to hear the truth again. We can't help but have an instant recall to the last time this question was asked, remember the results, and laugh. It's instinct. The dialogue features such gems of bad writing as, "Why don't you download that into your brain," and "He's not bad news; he's the worst news that there is." The highpoint comes during a particularly pointless scene between Wilson and Ana, when Ana finally blurts out, "Is that the best you could come up with?" It's almost as though someone's editorial note on the scene was inadvertently left in the script. There are more revelations, and the overbearing score absurdly swells every time one of them is divulged. Guns fire magic bullets that somehow move up through a window and then straight through a closet some twenty feet from the window.  Reyes tries to turn Randy into the comic relief, but with stuff like this, why bother? A crime lord who turns out to be a crybaby with lax security is just the icing.

There is a possible explanation if you try to look at Illegal Tender in the vein of an exploitation flick, but even if that's what Reyes is going for, he's missed the grit, the attitude, and the fun (the inadvertent humor doesn't count) of the concept. However you want to look at it, this movie is a shambles.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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