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With: Raul Castillo, Aimee Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo, David Castaneda, Marco Rodriguez, Sal Lopez, Marlene Forte, Kate Del Castillo, George Lopez
Written by: Ben Hernandez Bray, Joe Carnahan
Directed by: Ben Hernandez Bray
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout
Running Time: 107
Date: 05/03/2019

El Chicano (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Barrio Exam

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While an all-Latino crime drama like this one is an all-too-rare occurrence, its attempt to create a cool new hero, employing choppy, shaky action, and a convoluted, clunky story, feels sadly flat.

In El Chicano, twenty years ago in East L.A., two boys witness the killing of a local crime lord by a mysterious, masked vigilante called "El Chicano." In the present day, Diego (Raul Castillo) has become a police detective, while his twin brother Pedro went to prison and is now presumed dead, and his friend Shotgun (David Castaneda) has gone into a life of crime.

When the police discover the bodies of many slain gang members, Diego discovers a clue that connects the murders to his own past. Captain Gomez (George Lopez) reluctantly lets him follow up. Diego discovers his brother's prison notebooks and a storage facility that holds more surprises. A visit with the old priest Jesus (Marco Rodriguez) — who preaches the untold history of Los Angeles — provides more clues. Finally, El Chicano himself appears to put things right. But who is this masked man?

Directed and co-written by stunt man Ben Hernandez Bray (and director on TV's Arrow, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, & Supergirl) — and co-written by Joe Carnahan — El Chicano has good intentions and a certain amount of pride. It earnestly tries to represent its own culture onscreen, but also tries to convey it to a wider audience, resulting in quite a bit of exposition, i.e. translating certain slang words to English. But while the filmmakers are concerned with clarity of words, they seem to care less about telling the story.

The opening flashback doesn't really clarify exactly which of the young boys grows up into whom, and other sequences are equally confusing. Then, aside from appearing in the opening ten minutes, it takes well over an hour for the Daredevil/Punisher-like El Chicano to appear again, taking out a nightclub full of thugs.

But despite a career in stuntwork, director Bray does the usual camera-shaking and erratic editing, hiding the action rather than establishing a clear space for the characters to move in. In the end, despite some character appeal, the movie feels like a disappointment. However, a dramatic appearance by Kate del Castillo toward the end suggests that at least one sequel is on the way.

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