Illegal Tender Movie Review
For the first 15 minutes we're treated to the back story of '80s gangster Wilson Deleon Sr. (Manny Perez), a hard-working, merciful Bronx drug dealer just trying to make his way in this crazy world. He has a child on the way; her shrewd mother, Millie (Wanda De Jesus) has just laundered all his street earnings into a sizeable nest egg. Of course, on the night she tells him to stay in, he goes out and, of course, that's the night she delivers and, of course, that's the night his crew betrays him and two ridiculously buxom assassins gun him down.
Cut to 21 years later and Wilson Jr. (Rick Gonzalez) is a preppy young college student with a beautiful girlfriend, Ana (Dania Ramirez) and a cute little brother, Randy (Antonio Ortiz) from one of Millie's slew of post-Wilson Sr. lovers. Now living in the 'burbs under the assumption that no one from New York can find you in Connecticut, Millie nevertheless runs into one of the buxom killers, now older and with a deflated boob job, in a supermarket, and it's time to skip town.
Wilson finds it suspicious that this is the third time his family has had to move suddenly and demands an explanation. When the past finally comes to light, he travels to Puerto Rico to confront the man (Gary Perez) who had his father killed, a plot point which, like most elements of the film, sounds much more interesting than it actually turns out to be.
Part of the problem is that the movie never really decides what it wants to be. It could be a comedy, with buttoned-down Wilson learning how to be a criminal, as suggested by one awkward target practice scene. It could be a coming-of-age film, with a young Latino slapped with the hyper-Anglo moniker of "Wilson," learning about his roots in Puerto Rico, like some sort of ultra-violent Namesake. Or it could just be a straight-up gangster film, with gritty locations and compelling characters.
It commits to none of these paths nor does it choose any interesting alternative. Not helping matters is the generally poor, cliché-ridden dialogue ("I may look like my father, but I'm not him.") and weak acting. De Jesus, admittedly done no favors by the script, comes off as Pam Grier lite.
The only one to brush the dirt off his shoulders to some extent is Gonzalez, who seems to be in another movie, if only in his own head. His conviction is frustrating because it seems wasted on a lackluster project. He shows the ability to carry a film, as promised by his supporting turns in The Rookie, Old School, and the television show Reaper. Unfortunately, this film has nothing for him to carry.
Illegal Tender isn't the first movie to have little to rely on plot-wise than melodrama and guns, but directors like Quentin Tarantino and John Woo have spun that into cinematic gold. It could be argued that even the source material for The Godfather isn't much more than unusually violent soap opera. Reyes has taken many of the same ingredients but added no spice of his own, making the bland result accordingly forgettable.
Shake shake shake.