Piñero Movie Review

Talented and tragic historical figures often make for riveting drama, particularly if the aforementioned individuals leave the scene way before their time. This certainly can be said of Puerto Rican playwright-poet-actor Miguel Piñero, the drug-addicted protagonist of writer-director Leon Ichaso's impassioned but uneven biopic Piñero.

Benjamin Bratt is provocative in the role of Miguel Piñero, the troubled and disillusioned force behind the notable work Short Eyes, produced during one of Piñero's incarceration stints in the mid '70s. Bratt effectively exudes the pain and anger that transcends some posturing material, with a portrayal as lyrical as the throbbing beat of the movie's Latin-induced soundtrack. While the propensity for audiences to get caught up in Piñero's wayward world of instability is almost inevitable, the movie follows an uncharted path by trying to reinforce the demons without really being perceptive about Piñero's undeniable skill as a writer. The cliché about creative minds who become consumed by their art is almost a manipulation here. The film is valiant in the way it strides for that redemptive note as it tries to make us accept (and understand) his premature death of cirrhosis in 1988.

Ichaso (Sugar Hill) infuses his film with the necessary grit to capture the torturous existence of the substance-abusing artist, but his narrative is more of a sensationalistic scattershot showcase than it is a lacerating study of a misguided genius. Ichaso wants to flirt with the conceptual notion of Piñero's chaotic persona but never cracks his core. Fearless performances by the cast and an emphasis on the heavy-handed angst cannot elevate the film beyond mundane melodrama.

The storyline is as erratic as Piñero's lifestyle, and Ichaso seems to think this is poetically justifiable. The film simply glosses over some parts of his life in favor of championing excitable montages that highlight the colorful hedonism of Piñero's livelihood. And Ichaso's technique in shooting his film between color and black and white mode feels relentlessly gimmicky and distracting. The rhythmic edginess occasionally finds its flow but then becomes monotonous. Whether it shows Piñero committing grand larceny or sermonizing about his own bad boy demeanor, Ichaso is painfully repetitive about his lead character's uncontrollable excesses of unexplainable behavior.

When Piñero is not in its preachy and self-absorbing frame of mind, the film is greatly realized as a narcissistic look at a star about to lose its luster. The supporting cast is formidable, though several players weave in and out without really registering. Rita Moreno is quite calming as the Piñero matriarch and Talisa Soto is touching in her role as the longtime suffering girlfriend who stands by the frustrating Piñero.

Overall, Ichaso's mosaic of a celebrated misfit has the potential moodiness to resonate as something engagingly reflective. However, there's still a sense that something remains unresolved... much like the brief and tattered existence of Miguel Piñero himself.

The DVD contains little in the way of extras -- a 10-minute documentary purporting to discuss Piñero himself in reality is more about the making of the film and the actors' recollections of the man.


Piñero Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, NY/LA: Friday, December 7, 2001<br> WIDER: January 2002


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