York Entertainment, the quirky B movie distributor out of El Lay, is starting a new label called "York Latino," which will be exploitation movies for the Spanish market but made in English, and they had this great idea for the first in-house production: What if you took "Romeo and Juliet" and set it in the middle of a gang war in a Latin barrio?
Don't worry, though. "Barrio Wars" stars the hip-hop rapper Chino XL in a non-singing role (what's up with THAT?) as well as plenty of bouncing around a ratty South Central El Lay apartment in Halloween costumes. Thank God the main character is NOT named Maria.
Angelina is her name, and love-at-first-sight is her game. First she becomes transfixed with lust in the parking lot of the Playboy Liquor Store by making eye contact with a sensitive gangsta rapper in the back seat of a car occupied by the two gang members who recently kidnapped, terrorized and robbed her while wearing gold face masks, then fled in a hail of deadly bullets from her hotheaded brother Rico's pistol.
Shortly thereafter she falls in lust a second time, with a dude in a Spiderman suit who shows up at her costume party and sweeps her off her feet by giving her a dead rose and spouting lines like "I know your heart." She knows Spiderman's the one when he gives her his pager number -- the ultimate act of trust -- and then sneaks into her bed in the middle of the night while she's sleeping and wakes her up by basically, uh, having sex with her.
Criminal molestation laws not being that big a deal in the hood, she's hopelessly in love as she prepares for her big singing audition the next day with the guy from Playboy Liquor. After laying down some fairly excruciating tracks, they take a drive on Mulholland and she finds the tell-tale Spiderman mask in his car. Yes, it's true. Spiderman is the rapper. The rapper is Spiderman. She's in love with both of them, and both belong to the gang that wants to kill her brother.
For reasons that aren't entirely understandable -- the entire cast tends to mumble -- Rico the loose cannon soon finds out his sister is aardvarking with a member of the hated enemy gang, so he heads down to the Penthouse pool hall to exchange some nasty Essays with Julio and Tito, who are hanging out with Spiderman's sister Vanessa. Vanessa, hottest babe in the flick, reveals why she's been hanging around the plot for so long when Rico flies into a fit of jealous rage and slits her throat. This forces Spiderman the rapper to pursue Rico's pitfaced sidekick Santino into the alley, fell him with multiple gunshots, then stand over him and execute him as he begs for his life.
This tends to put a damper on the love life of Angelina and Plato (Spiderman's real name), especially when the killer rapper shows up in her bedroom with blood on his hands. There's only one thing to do, Angelina decides: run away to Miami and get jobs in a South Beach nightclub.
Meanwhile, Plato hides out in a ratty Venice Beach walk-up apartment, working out a few new tunes on his guitar, and Angelina gets another inspired idea. She'll get her best friend Delfina to videotape her taking a suicidal overdose of pills, then leave the tape behind so no one will go looking for them.
What she doesn't count on is that Delfina has the hots for Plato herself, so she takes him the tape and convinces him Angelina is dead. Operatic drama ensues.
The whole thing is narrated by "Osiris," an ex-gangbanger-turned-record-producer played by Chino XL, who not only wins the gold neckchain championship in a movie that has many contenders but provides a sort of freeform poetic narration over slum footage whenever the movie needs a segue. It's not exactly "Romeo and Juliet," and it's not exactly "West Side Story." It's more like Cheech and Chong's version of "Breakin' 2 Is Electric Boogaloo," with a synthetic hip-hop soundtrack.
Yes, it's a little painful. But let's look at those drive-in totals anyway:
Six dead bodies. Two breasts. (And yes, they are stunt
breasts. Shame on you, Angelina.) Three shootouts. Nubile-maiden hog-tying. One motor vehicle chase. Rap Fu.
Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Chantelle Tibbs, as Delfina the Fickle, for spending most of the movie in body-hugging lingerie; Anthony Martins, as the short-fused brother who endears himself to his sister with phrases like "You look like a slut"; Gerardo Reyes, as the evil gang member who says "You don't run nothin' around here"; Sevier Crespo, as the thick-tongued but poetic rapper and love interest, for saying "People like us never make it out --we've got two choices in life, either the coffin or the
streets"; Luchana Gatica as Angelina, the babe in search of true love who wails over her dying lover's body with the lament "Didn't you get my page!"; Chino XL, as the barrio poet and Hollywood record producer who dispenses wisdom like "Revenge comes quickly in the barrio"; Sara Ceballos, as the doomed sister, for saying "I choose to ride or die with them"; and Paul Wynne, the director, co-producer and co-writer, for being ambitious.
Two stars. Joe Bob says check it out.
"Barrio Wars" Web site: yorkentertainment.com.
(To reach Joe Bob, go to joebobbriggs.com or e-mail him at
JoeBob@upi.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)