Wild Entertainment 80’s Style
|Starring:||Damian Chapa, Jennifer Tilly, Stacy Keach, Robert Wagner, Faye Dunaway, Gary Busey, Tiny Lister, Brad Dourif, and Kathleen Quinlan|
Exquisitely bad on a comic level, accurately describes filmmaker Damian Chapa’s new gangster epic “El Padrino.” This is a film that wants to tell many stories and understands, I hope, that taking any of them seriously would just make this film an awful viewing experience. As it is, there is something for everyone in this movie, and for the right audience, it could be a real kick.
The fact that an Internet search for “El Padrino” yields Spanish sites devoted to Francis Ford Coppola’s classic should not mislead you. You see, the translation into English of “El Padrino” literally means “The Godfather.” And although “El Padrino” is ambitious and often wildly entertaining primarily because of the strange menagerie of famous acting faces that drift in and out of one crazy scene after another, it is not nor will ever be a classic film.
“El Padrino” 2004 is a weird film reminiscent of those drug lord crime story epics of the 1980s. I liken it to “New Jack City” in scale and “Penitentiary” in execution. No matter what you might ultimately think of the movie as a whole, one can never get tired of seeing Jennifer Tilly in full-fledged vixen mode or Gary Busey playing the criminally insane tweaked, bloated with big bad teeth and everything. Busey is not playing Buddy Holly here I assure you.
In “El Padrino,” Miguel (Damian Chapa) is of mixed racial background, his father is Hispanic (Cuban, I think) and his mother is Caucasian. Miguel is introduced to the life of crime by his father at an early age. His father is small-time drug dealer who also uses the product he pushes. The film shows the child Miguel with his father who after being involved in a violent drug deal is arrested with his young son watching. The police bring the boy home with a bloody wad of cash in his pocket.
The story progresses forward a number of years joining Miguel in his late teens or early twenties. He leaves home and pursues a life of crime aimed at drug sales. After taking a beating from Hispanic drug dealers, he convinces them that he is their ticket to selling drugs to the California college crowd. Hence Miguel reinvents himself into Kilo, the drug dealer and future drug lord.
In time, Kilo assembles a killer group of drug dealing experts including the vicious Sabeva played as a crazed Mexican temptress adept with a razor blade akin to Pam Grier’s sleazy killer hooker from “Fort Apache the Bronx.” You have to see Tilly in this film to believe it; her delicious voice is perverted into something just indescribable. After some trouble, Kilo is incarcerated in a prison that could only exist in the movies. Every possible racial group is represented, including black gangs, Hispanic gangs, and the Aryan nation. The beauty of Chapa’s bizarre epic is his ability to assemble great familiar acting talent placing them in juicy roles where they can overflow with hamminess. For example, Brad Dourif plays the leader of the Aryan nation in an “Oz” like performance that is arguably some of the best stuff in the film. “El Padrino” could have used more Dourif.
The run down of established acting talent in this film is impressive. The score card goes like this: Tilly is the crazed Sabeva whose gang of female drug dealers is the perfect delivery vehicle for Kilo’s merchandise; Tiny Lister is T-Bone a gang leader who befriends Kilo in prison and is later one of his loyal lieutenants; Gary Busey is the unhinged child killer Lars; Stacy Keach plays the troubled Governor Lancaster whose daughter is kidnapped by Lars; Faye Dunaway is the scheming Attorney General Navarro; Brad Dourif is the Aryan prison leader Cyrus; Robert Wagner is Kilo’s unscrupulous attorney Fisch; and Kathleen Quinlan is the hang ’em high Judge Scorsi.
One wonders whether director Chapa assembled his cast first and then built a story around them all refusing to cut anything. This isn’t a bad idea when you have ready access to established names. Reviewing Chapa’s filmography you see several films with the same familiar faces referenced above. Chapa will be making a lot more movies in his time and, hopefully, those to come will be infinitely better than this one. He needs to bottle some of his actor’s charisma and write a script around the character they have created (Tilly’s incarnation as Sabeva would make a good start).
The story of “El Padrino” is bloated and out of control, and the filmmaker wants it that way. The concluding bloodbath is derivative and dumb. And everyone involved knows it. But there is something cool about the way Chapa moves around in front of the camera. And it’s fun to see all these well-known actors hamming it up, especially Tilly and Busey who as the characters of Sabeva and Lars don’t appear on screen together because if they had, people may have run screaming from the theater.