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Illegal Tender Movie Review

Review by Compay for LatinRapper.com

 

Illegal Tender movie review

From producer John Singleton (Hustle & Flow, Boyz N The Hood) and writer/director Franc Reyes (Empire) comes a story of one family's fight for survival against the backdrop of the East Coast and Puerto Rico. Wilson Deleon Jr. (Rick Gonzalez) is the son of a slain drug dealer, whose killers still have the intention of wiping out the rest of the Deleon family 20 years later. After his family's location is discovered, Wilson is thrust into a situation in which he must either leave his home and love interest, or confront his assailants while learning more about the father he never knew.


Few movies that made it to the big screen in recent years have focused on Latino characters, let alone with a complete leading cast of Latin-American actors and actresses. Illegal Tender proves that it's far from the typical straight-to-DVD fare that fans of Latino-related films are accustomed to, but it still comes off as something of a novelty that caters itself to Latin filmgoers.

The film begins with a basic introduction into the life of Wilson Deleon Sr. (Manny Perez), a Bronx drug dealer and mid-level boss with enough heart to portray him as something other than a one-dimensional thug. Perez doesn't disappoint, though the "look how Puerto Rican we are" references go from valid during a bodega visit to slightly overdone by the time the family enjoys flan over discussions of "Iris Chacon" jeans. This also rings true of the gratuitous cleavage shots of Latinas counting drug money; while I can't complain about the eye candy, it comes off more as a throwback to an Univision sitcom than a featured film.

After Deleon Sr. is killed, the audience gets an update on how his wife and two sons are living in the Connecticut burbs 20 years later. Unfortunately, we're not given much backstory in the way of who Wilson DeLeon Jr. is, beyond being a top-notch student with a touch of urban flair and a sexy Dominicana on his arm (portrayed by Dania Ramirez). When his mother Millie (Wanda De Jesús) is recognized by an underworld acquaintance associated with her husband's killing, flight with Wilson Jr. and his younger brother becomes imminent. Bit by bit, Wilson is given the abbreviated version of who his family's would-be killers are as well as their motives, yet he still dwells on a puzzle which is missing some obvious pieces. Amidst shootouts with foes, his search for the truth and a means of ending the decades-old beef leads him to Puerto Rico in search of his father's history and the man responsible for his demise.

The good news is that Illegal Tender is well-directed, visually stimulating with a musical score that's on point. The downside is that the quality of acting is inconsistent, and there are plot holes big enough for Diego Maradona to stumble through. Not until halfway through the film does Wilson Jr. question how an unemployed mother of two is able to buy homes with cash and keep him behind the wheel of the latest whip. Apparently the suburbs of Connecticut (where all of their enemies coincidentally decide to settle down) are also no different than the projects, in that it takes the police hours after a shootout to make an appearance. The idea that drug wives were investing in Microsoft before the personal computer boom is painfully unbelievable, even something as clichéd as a lottery win would have been more acceptable to the audience.

Rick Gonzalez is believable as a shook college kid far removed from a lifestyle of violence, but as the movie progresses and Wilson Jr. plunges deeper into the lion's den, he seems to put too much thought into his acting. Reggaeton heads were eagerly anticipating the film debut of Puerto Rico's own Tego Calderon. Fortunately for Illegal Tender el Abayarde demonstrates that his transition to the movies isn't a gimmick, for being a new jack to movies he makes the film more enjoyable. You'd be hard pressed to find a Hip Hop aficionado who hasn't subjected themselves to sub-part acting from rappers who should stick to the recording booth. But Tego, who plays Puerto Rican drug boss Choco, effectively carries his role as a serious gangster sporting a mischievous grin without having to overplay himself as a tough guy. More importantly is the significance of a well known Afro-Latino being cast in a leading role, while many of the major characters are portrayed by Latinos noticeably of African descent, Tego's trademark afro leaves no room for confusion. Hopefully in the future Afro-Latinos are continued to be cast in positive roles, rather than only those of criminals.

Illegal Tender is fortunate enough to have a cast of experienced actors, although none of the performances reach out and grab you save for that of Wanda De Jesus, who plays Wilson Jr.'s mother, Millie. Despite having relatively dull dialogues to work with, De Jesus nails the part of a protective mom who would do anything for the welfare of her children, and continues to function throughout the pain and fear that she is subjected to. The film seems to perpetuate the "Spicy Latina" stereotype, from the outfits of most of Latina background characters, to the scantily clad vixens at the beaches and clubs of Puerto Rico. It's thus refreshing that the lead actress, despite being an absolute knockout in her forties, brings substance to the role rather than being relegated to play just another hot yet shallow Latina M.I.L.F.

For anyone that's been to Puerto Rico, the shots of Old San Juan are enough to put a smile on your face, and its a plus that non-Latinos will have more exposure to Spanish rap and reggaeton via the movie's score. While Reyes could have done better with the all too familiar "stern girlfriend's dad" and "simple local guy who knows everything" roles, he does score points with a few multidimensional characters. While the plot itself is average at best, there's enough of a surprise twist towards the conclusion to make the story interesting.

The verdict: Illegal Tender lacks the gritty feel of hood classics like Juice, but its definitely not your average straight to video urban flick. What the movie lacks in quality dialogue, it makes up for in visuals and a few laugh out loud moments. It's worth being checked out in theaters by Latinos, who will appreciate a realistic-looking Caribbean cast, but who may also roll their eyes at the occasional oversimplification of Puerto Rican culture and women. I can't shake the feeling that the film was green lighted on the strength of Latinos being all but guaranteed to cop the DVD. But I also believe that Franc Reyes was trying to honestly illustrate the power of love between Latinos and their family, and the lengths that they will go to in the name of preservation or redemption.

 

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