Lionsgate // 2003 // 303 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Nelson (Retired) // September 4th, 2003
The Mexican Sopranos, just like their Italian counterparts, are just trying to live up to their Godfather, Al Pacino.
Crime syndicates come in every color and creed, and they all are trying to do the same thing: protect their family from the horrors of the world. Never mind the horrors they themselves are committing; those are all justified of course, in the name of business or family. But if all the energy and talent was spent trying to promote a better life for everybody, instead of their own selfish families, the world would be a much better place. Oh, and all the movies and TV series made about them wouldn't feel like cheap Godfather knock-offs either.
Miguel Cadena (Yancey Arias, The Time Machine) is at the top of the food chain in La Corporacion, the Mexican drug cartel. His wife, Marlene (Sheryl Lee John Carpenter's Vampires), a secret user of their product, cocaine, stands by her man in defiance of the rest of her in-laws, who despise her for being white, not Mexican. Miguel's brother, Chato (Bobby Cannavale), is Miguel's hot-headed right hand and enforcer. Together, the family has kept La Corporacion alive for three generations and now controls half of the US/Mexico border.
Directly across the border in Houston, Texas, is resident plastic surgeon, Dr. Heywood Klein (Brian Benben). His wife, soon to be ex-wife, is milking him of all his money and possessions (to say nothing of his dignity), all the while dangling the signed divorce papers out in front of him like a carrot. As one of La Corporacion's US distributors, with all his money problems and cruel wife hounding him he doesn't know if he wants out or if he can afford to stay in.
Looking in from afar is DEA agent Delia Flores (Angela Alvarado Showtime). With her contacts in Mexico she believes she can crack the drug cartels, single-handed, until she finds herself on the business end of a bad deal. Now, disgraced, she is trying to work her way back up through the ranks while still trying to satiate the itch that brought her her troubles in the first place.
This cookie-cutter mafia rip-off is at least presented well. Nothing new is brought to the series, but the best parts of The Sopranos, The Godfather Trilogy, Scarface and other mafia movies are recycled and given a Latino look for this made-for-TV extravaganza. It is understandable why this series contains all the hackneyed elements that typically escape the laptop of some junior V.P. of production at NBC, even if it was David Mills (E.R., Homicide: Life on the Streets) who brought it to us -- ratings. NBC had been knocked off its lofty perch at the top of the big four and wanted to be back on top. So if you can't beat 'em, copy their best stuff and join 'em.
With HBO able to do anything they want, since you must pay for the privilege of watching their fare, they have the latitude and attitude to create programs not constrained by the limitations of the advertisers' dollar. Swearing, killing, excessive drug use, cursing, and more sex than you can shake a body part at, it's no wonder their top rated programs are so popular. NBC would be a fool of a network if they passed up the opportunity to capitalize off that.
Unfortunately for the viewer, what they chose to show us is nothing we haven't already seen before a dozen times. A full production team went into this project, and it is clear from the lavish sets and locations that no expenses were spared, but it is still the same old house with a fresh coat of paint. It is an expensive knock-off, but a knock-off all the same.
Yancey Arias as Miguel Cadena, the Kingpin of the operation, is nothing but a Mexican Michael Corleone. Even the names of the two characters have the same initials! And isn't Miguel the Spanish version of the name Michael anyways? Couldn't they try a little harder to think of something, I don't know, original? If they wanted me to be constantly thinking I'm watching The Godfather, then at least make your intentions clear upfront, and call the show El Padrino instead of this title that doesn't fit the program. Miguel Cadena is not the Kingpin. The show goes out of its ways to illustrate that fact. He does not have absolute control nor does he show any sign of actively wanting to attain it. A better title might have been King's Side Castle, or maybe Keystone Kartel, but they didn't ask me and the show didn't last long enough for it to matter anyways.
Only on the air for six episodes, Kingpin quickly burned out of the airwaves, unable to find a market in the few weeks it was on the air. All six episodes have been complied onto this DVD set of three discs, but it is hard to understand why it is spread so thin. Each disc only contains two episodes, and the third contains the only extra content to be found, a series of short interviews with the cast and self-promotional promos. No making-of featurettes, history of Mexican drug cartels, or other supplementary material. There aren't even subtitles, which is odd considering how much Spanish is spoken without English translations popping up on the screen. It is conceivable that NBC just wanted to cut their loses and get the product out while they could still generate some profit from it, but at the cost of excluding all but Spanish speaking viewers just doesn't make financial sense.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Perfect for TVs of the late 20th century, but as for those in the 21st, it leaves something to be desired. The print is clean and crisp, with minimal edge enhancements and halos. The color themes are a direct copy of the movie Traffic, with cool blues for the cops and DEA agents, warm reds and yellows for the scenes in Mexico, and normal everyday colors for those on the border of the two worlds.
Sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and regular surround 2.0 in Spanish. The audio mixes are adequate for the needs of the show, with mostly front-center speaker use for the conversations and some directional effects for the ambient noises. A pretty good mix that gets the job done.
Even though you've seen it all before, it still has some redeeming qualities. Some things blow up, and there's a tiger, and...and...ah, fugedditaboutit!
As short-lived mini-series go, this one holds to its namesake: it was a miniature series. With no conclusion ever to be made (unless the hand of God smacks the ground and does so personally, but all I see are clear skies), these six episodes are all you're going to get. Pass on these imitation cornflakes and rent the real deals; it's a more fulfilling meal.
Guilty of trafficking Mexican stereotypes and theft of product from the Corleone and Soprano families. Sentenced to sleep with the fishes, indefinitely. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2003 Jonathan Nelson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 303 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R