La Soga: Salvation


La Soga doing what he does best.

(2021) Action (Screen Media) Manny Perez, Sarah Jorge León, Hada Vanessa, Chris McGarry, Juan Fernández, Félix Germán, Vicente Suriel, Billy M. Mejia, Albania Matos, Jay Ramirez, Joseph Cepin, Siegfried Puello, Pablo Rodriguez Masjoan, Brazu Montanez, Jhomphy Ventura, Michael Ras Wolf, Leonel Severino, Joyce Vandreuil, Jose Gutierrez, Juan Babyface Matos, Yakim Parker, Rose Peralta. Directed by Manny Perez

 

Back in 2009, La Soga had the distinction of being the first movie from the Dominican Republic to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. A dozen years later, the sequel repeated the feat and is now finding theatrical and streaming release here in the United States.

Luisito (Perez, who also wrote and directed the sequel) is living a quiet life in Pawtucket, Rhode Island with his girlfriend Lia (León), trying to forget his past as a hitman for the secret police in his home country of the Dominican Republic, going by the code name of La Soga. The two have spent the last decade moving from place to place, trying to stay away from vengeful drug lords who still want a pound of Luisito’s flesh. But now, it seems, they have found the tranquility and anonymity they both desire and are thinking about finally starting a family. In fact, Lia has just discovered the she is pregnant, and is looking forward to breaking the good news to her boyfriend.

But before she can, his past finally catches up with him, in the person of Federal agent James McCann (McGarry), who jovially likes to be called “Jimmy Mac.” He has a job for La Soga, which Luisito doesn’t want to take. He knows that he and Lia must once more go on the run. He just needs to pick up his last paycheck from the bodega he works in and they can go, but he is ambushed there by McCann’s men. He survives the ambush, and hurries home, to find the apartment in chaos and Lia gone. He gets a phone call from McCann; he has Lia, and will kill her if that job he wanted done doesn’t get done. Luisito has no choice but to take on the assignment, which is to kill a Dominican drug lord before he can go on trial.

But it turns out there’s another player in the game, one with a far more personal stake in the goings-on, and just as deadly as Luisito. Now, he has to find Lia, rescue her and avoid all manner of assassins if he is to save his family.

As action films go, this one is somewhat generic. Perez has a kind of smoldering, brooding presence that is generally suitable for the genre, but he also isn’t a superhuman killing machine either; he is perhaps the most ordinary action hero that I’ve ever seen in a genre film, and that’s truly welcome. When your hero is virtually unstoppable, it tends to take the tension out of the cinematic equation.

The movie is generally well-written, but doesn’t offer any variation on tried-and-true formulas, so in that sense the movie is entirely forgettable. Still, León has a great deal of screen presence, even though it isn’t utilized much, and Perez does a pretty good job as well. While the action sequences aren’t innovative, they are at least competently done and devoid of any CGI assistance. Generally speaking, this is a throwback to the B-movie action films of the Eighties and that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

REASONS TO SEE: Luisito is a different kind of action hero.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very standard action flick in many respects.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of violence, profanity, brief nudity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The English translation of La Soga is “the Rope.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sicario
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Yardie

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Donny’s Bar Mitzvah


The big man gets the big chair.

(2021) Comedy (Circle Collective) Steele Stebbins, Danny Trejo, Jeremy Tardy, Adrian Ciscato, Zemyhe Curtis, Joshua Gonzales, Wendy Braun, Regan Burns, Jennifer Sorenson, Michael Patrick McGill, Adam Herschman, Tricia O’Kelley, John DeLuca, Jessica Renee Russell, Radek Wallace Lord, Isabelle Anaya, Connor Del Rio, Eugene Kim, Judilin Bosita, Noureen DeWulf, Aundrea Smith. Directed by Jonathan Kaufman

 

It’s 1998 and social media hasn’t yet become the force it is today. Donny (Stebbins) is a nice Jewish boy about to become a nice Jewish man, at least in terms of his faith. Looking at the adults around him, it’s hard to figure out who the grown-ups are.

Shot from the point of view of a videographer using a camcorder (the film is even shot in the 1.33:1 ratio standard for camcorders of the era), Donny’s Bar Mitzvah follows several plot lines such as Donny’s brother Bobby (DeLuca) getting his mother’s friend Susie (O’Kelley) pregnant after a quickie in the venue bathroom – a pregnancy which goes through its entire process in the course of the night. Then there’s Donny’s sister who is the beard for gay Gary (Herschman). Or there’s emcee Gerald (Tardy) who has a thing for his co-worker Gigi (Smith) but it turns out that she’s just Danny Trejo (Trejo) in disguise and Trejo is actually a federal agent chasing a nefarious criminal known as the party pooper who it turns out is, umm, aptly named. Also, you get to meet Mr. Wang (Kim) and his wife (Bosita) attending their first bar mitzvah, whose shocked and uncomfortable expressions likely mirrored my own.

There’s Donny and some of his friends trying to learn a dance routine but protesting that Jews can’t dance, or the overbearing mom, the interfering grandmother trying to matchmake or a thousand other stereotypical cliches which were passé even in 1998. And the film is jampacked from start to finish with raunchy, vulgar sex jokes. One gets the sense that Kaufman is trying to go for a cross between the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow with a dash of John Hughes thrown in for flavor.

I have no problem with raunchy comedies, although the more prudish among you might find the humor here overbearing, but I’m not so much a raunch for raunch’s sake kind of guy. I need my comedy to be funny and not merely amusing. Kaufman adopts the “throw as many jokes and bits against the celluloid wall and see what sticks” school of filmmaking founded by ZAZ back in the day. The pacing is a bit haphazard, moving in fits and starts despite the constant barrage of jokes. On the plus side, though, there appears to be some actual ideas in the background, from the concept that parties of this nature are more status symbols for the parents than celebrations of their children. The movie could have used a few more of these.

This isn’t a movie for everybody, simply because Kaufman tries so hard to push the envelope which is unnecessary for a good movie. As this is his first feature, he’ll doubtlessly learn that pretty quickly and concentrate on just making a terrific movie, and something tells me he actually will. But this ain’t it.

REASONS TO SEE: Pokes fun at the “we’re doing it for our kids” culture. There are some profound ideas among all the grossness.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pacing can be compared to a car with carburetor problems. Tries too hard to be outrageous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of profanity and vulgarity including sexual references, nudity, violence and drug use, most involving teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jonathan Kaufman cameos as a super awkward bartender under the pseudonym Jonny Comebacks.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superbad
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Fever