Ranchero

“So, there’s a Mexploitation flick playing at the Encino Laemmle.”
“A what?”
“Mexploitation. It’s like Blaxploitation, only with Mexicans.”

Then, somewhat embarrassingly, I had to explain Blaxploitation to The Boy. Long ago, in the ‘70s, when movies sucked….

“So, it’s Mexploitation, but it’s at the Laemmle. So it’s probably Mexploitation without the exploitation.”
“Ookayyy.”

And, indeed, that’s exactly what Ranchero is: A simple story of a heroic ranchero who comes to Los Angeles to make his fortune, and encounters drugs, poverty and, scariest of all, Danny Trejo. But there’s no nudity or sex, and little drug use and violence actually shown.

The Boy really liked this film. He thought it was a good presentation of a simple story.

I liked it as well, but I found it exceedingly naive. This is kind of amusing to me, because blaxploitation and mexploitation have always tended to be naive, and I sort of thought the indie/art credential that came from being at our local art house would imply greater sophistication. (Greater sophistication offering plausible deniability that the sleaze had artistic merit.)

The hero, Jesse, played by Roger Gutierrez, is supposed to be unsophisticated but he’s so straightforward and unassuming, it’s like he’s never seen television. I mean, it’s one thing to have worked on a farm your whole life, and another to be 38 and unaware that there are drugs, crime, gangs and other immoral things in downtown Los Angeles.

I mean, he sees his best bud dealing drugs in a vacant lot, and doesn’t seem to get past a mild suspicion that something might be afoot. I wonder if this guy I haven’t seen in ten years has changed at all? And why is he sweating and shaking all the time? His pupils are larger than I recall, too!

Or…Van Nuys.

OK, I’m not gonna harp (much) on the geography, but the scene transitions were shots of traffic near the 101 Silver Lake exit (by the famous Western Exterminator building) and Normandie, which are addresses in the hundreds, while the apartment address was 6363, which would either be West L.A. (near the tar pits) or North Hollywood/Van Nuys in the Valley. It really looked like the Valley.

Yeah. The mean streets of my youth, baby!

Still, there’s plenty of crime there, I guess. Enough for a movie. And, really, the only criminal we see is Danny Trejo, so maybe he’s our gangsta out here. (Side note: Danny and I fought over shrimp cocktail at my best bud’s wedding and he didn’t knife me.)

The movie is well shot, and actually doesn’t look all that low-budget, though there are some classic tell-tale signs. Like, there’s an ambulance at one point, but we only see the flashing red light. Danny Trejo is only in two scenes, one of which he’s not even visible, so you know they shot those in one afternoon.

Classic low-budget, let’s-get-a-star-for-the-DVD-case tactic.

All that stuff is fine. There is some padding, too. There are a whole bunch of slow scene transitions. I suspect that’s because, tightly edited, the film would be just over an hour. Or, really tightly edited, it would be the trailer. Heh.

I liked the actors, but there’s a soap opera quality to the dialog—once again a matter of editing—that gives it a clunky, stagy feeling at points.

And…did I mention naive? Like, Jesse doing an “I love you, let’s run away” speech to a girl he’s known for…I dunno, a few hours? OK, it was probably a couple of weeks, movie time, but it still seems so sudden.

Anyway, props to director Richard Kaponas and screenwriter Brian Eric Johnson, who also snagged himself the best role as Tom, Jesse’s strung out best friend from childhood, the charismatic Roger Gutierrez and Cristina Woods for sincere and even moving performances, and the whole crew for managing to raise the million bucks it took to make this. Shout out to the cinematographer, Michael Bratkowski, and no special blame to the editor Don Burton. (Since the editing is technically fine, and you never know who made the artistic choices.)

This flick was made in 2008 and barely released, so you probably won’t have a chance to see it, which is a shame, considering the amount of high budget crap you will see that doesn’t have half the heart.

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