Tom Sizemore isn’t renowned for his comedy, but he is a damn fine actor and has brought comedic moments to his more serious roles. Héctor Jiménez is, and he’s also a damn fine actor who’s done serious roles and brought the right amount of drama to things like Nacho Libre. Having never heard of this 10-year-old film, it needed to get a watch.
The premise is gleefully optimistic and ages the movie as being made well before White Christian Fascist became mainstream politics in America. Leroy Low (Sizemore) is a hardcore racist who gets sent to prison for being a grifting piece of shit. Warden Merville (Stacy Keach) decided to rehabilitate him by putting the Mexican Emilio (Héctor Jiménez) in the same cell as him. Low discovers that his arsehole pals in the KKK are arseholes, that Mexicans can be real people, and that there are worse things in life than being white, male, and educated in America in the 60s.
Yes, you know what the broad plot will be within the first ten minutes. There are a couple of small twists along the way, but they are given slowly, calmly, and with due time for you to ease into them. This film isn’t trying to break boundaries (other than in racists minds!), it’s here to tell a redemption arc and give you some laughs along the way. It’s also possibly trying to show the drudgery of being in prison, but that’s mostly in service to the jokes.
Because of the styles of the three main performers, those jokes are as long and dry as a Texas heatwave. There are few laugh-out-loud moments, just a series of absurdities, wordplays, and ironic moments dragged out to breaking point. Beckett might complain it’s a bit fast and cheery, the average cinema-goer will not. Personally, I found it enthralling, others might not.
What it clearly does is play up to Sizemore and Keach’s strengths and stature, giving them roles they’ve played before whilst giving them space to take them just that little step further into humour. Some of it plays up prison, some of it racism, some of it just life itself. Jiménez’s gets to play off of these two (mostly Sizemore), and whilst it doesn’t add much to his range it showcases what he can do as he holds his own against players with five times his experience.
This isn’t the greatest film ever made on the subject, and it’s reasonable to argue that it’s a subject that could be better handled in other forms. It does go out of it’s way to ridicule racism, and it has the leads redemption arc, but that may sit badly with many. But provides people who like black comedy with plenty or rye smiles and has enough intelligence to keep the viewer engaged. By its own terms, it’s a Treasure, as the cast are the focus and all the performances are spot on.