Universal // 2007 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 11th, 2008
Always protect the family.
On its face, Illegal Tender has a nifty pedigree, produced by John Singleton and all, but upon closer inspection the movie fails to distinguish itself.
Wilson DeLeon (Rick Gonzalez, Reaper) is a college student hoping to make something worthwhile out of his life. And he's succeeding, thanks in part to his supportive mom Millie (Wanda De Jesus) and their bucketloads of cash. Thanks to a flashback that kicks off the film, we learn that Wilson's dad was into some serious #$%&, criminal stuff that allowed for the swanky living in the future, but got dad shot.
Wilson isn't aware of any of this until one day his mom flips out when she sees someone from her past, frantically packs up her family and tries to flee. Wilson is confused and totally not on board with her mom's ravings, until some intruders break into his house, forcing Wilson to bust out his Glocks. After that, it's on.
I guess Illegal Tender is technically a thriller, but I found nary a thrill to be had here. There's an awful lot of talking and platitudes about sticking together as a family and ill-advised, runtime-padding trips to Puerto Rico, but the actual suspense-filled, action-oriented segments are few and very far between.
And worse, when the film does kick into a faster, burlier gear, the action set-pieces are either lame or inadvertently funny. One of the bigger sequences had Wilson defending his house against two very non-threatening thugs, dispatched from the family's arch-nemesis drug-dealer. In it, Wilson freaks out a bit, then dual-wields a par of pistols, fires blindly, hits a dude in the leg, chases the retreating bad guys out of the house, stares at them as they drive off and scene. Blah. The follow-up is worse however, when reinforcements arrive and Wilson's mom gets nutty, also going for the dual-wield and flying out of the house screaming and spraying bullets like a nightmarish scene from Desperate Housewives.
That's where the "thriller" aspects of the film crest. From there on out, it's more flights to Puerto Rico and heated negotiations and not much else. The crux of the film's message is sticking together as a family and learning to recognize that good people can still do horrible things and why don't you just suck it up already you ungrateful jackass and go play your Xbox 360 that your dead father's hard-earned drug money helped pay for? The points are blunt and explicit, so you won't miss them, but there's not much substance at work beyond the average episode of NYPD Blue.
The acting is hot and cold. I like Gonzalez in Reaper, but he's pretty wooden in this role. Things do liven up when he's talking smack to the drug kingpin. On the other side is De Jesus, who does well with the dramatic elements, but goes overboard with the Big Bad Mama stuff at the end.
That's all I've got to say about Illegal Tender. It's not an affront to cinema, but there are plenty of other movies and even a few paint-by-number activities that are more deserving of your time.
Universal blasted out a solid DVD. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is quite good, sharp and detailed throughout. Two Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes (English and Spanish) push the audio. For the extras, you get a making-of documentary, a music video and making-of the music video.
I'm not feeling this one.
The Treasury Department has been notified.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Making-of Documentary
* Music Video
* Making-of the Music Video