Lionsgate // 2011 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // January 11th, 2012
Julian Perez, Mexico's most powerful crime lord, must embark on a mission given to him by the only authority he respects...his mother.
Julian Perez (Miguel Rodarte, The Tiger of Santa Julia) has clawed his way to the top of the Mexican criminal food chain, but his mother disapproves of his lifestyle choice. The only thing that will earn her forgiveness is rescuing his little brother, an American G.I. who has gone MIA in Iraq. So Julian throws all his resources at the job, assembling a sort of dream team from old friends and enemies alike.
Saving Private Perez is the sort of film into which you can't put too much thought; any attempt at layering the ridiculous plot with some semblance of logic will prove futile. But logic is entirely beside the point. From beginning to end, Saving Private Perez is great fun.
The film is filled with potential pitfalls that would have derailed a lesser effort. Mexican banditos wearing brightly-colored cowboy outfits staging their own invasion of Iraq? Sure! A Rambo-esque Mexican-Indian tomato farmer? Why not? American soldiers who apparently shoot at anything and anyone even after the so-called enemies just rescued an entire squad of Americans? Happens all the time.
Despite its many eccentricities, Saving Private Perez works because it doesn't rely on cheap gags for laughs. There are no fart jokes or shots to the groin. When they must travel by camel, none of the animals play to stereotype and spit on anyone. Saving Private Perez is 100% invested in playing everything straight, no matter how ridiculous the outfits or the surroundings.
This dichotomy between silly situations and serious emoting creates a raw energy that helps the film gloss over its weak spots, of which there are plenty. There are halfhearted attempts to add some side stories, such as a rival crime lord's dealings or the older guys' attempts to humble young Pumita (Rodrigo Oviedo, Pink Punch), but none of them are given any real time. Chema's daughter is introduced as a character, but the film never tells her story. Perez's past is given a cursory glance and then forgotten. Though full of action, Saving Private Perez is not a good action film. The choreography is below average; fights are choppy, jumping in and out of shots mid-punch, with poor camera angles and even worse spacing.
It is funny and entertaining, though, mostly because of Rodarte. Julian displays a fairly broad range of emotions, and Rodarte pulls all of them off with panache. He is somehow believable, even as he stares down bad guys while wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat, a purple silk shirt unbuttoned to his navel, and enough gold chains to ballast a three-ton schooner. The rest of the ensemble do as well as they can with the parts they're given, but the script doesn't delve very deep.
Saving Private Perez makes a big deal about assembling a team of experts, but once the action has begun, they become a homogenous group. Chema (Jesús Ochoa, Quantum of Solace) is said to be the "best strategist" they have, but there are no scenes of him applying brilliant strategy. He mostly provides militant comedy as an overweight ex-commando doing superfluous shoulder rolls and making obscure hand gestures that only he understands. Rosalio (Joaquín Cosio, Eastbound and Down) is a "top pilot" who gets to fly briefly, but we are given no amazing examples of his abilities. In fact, when introduced, he isn't flying at all; he's wearing a prawn costume at some sort of party. Other than being Perez's childhood friend, it's never made quite clear what Carmelo (Gerardo Taracena, The Violin) brings to the table. Pumita is supposed to be hell-on-wheels in any kind of battle, but his first fight, while trying to get away from Perez's men, is the only time he shows any ingenuity or elite ability.
Presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is reasonably clean, with no serious defects or grain. As with most desert-centric films, the colors are somewhat blanched. Even the corny cowboy outfits don't pop as much as you might expect. The Dolby 5.1 surround is adequate, although the surrounds are used primarily for music and the subwoofer doesn't get much action. The only extra is a short "making of" featurette that has very little to do with how the film was made; it's really more of a introduction.
Saving Private Perez is not the film to watch, if you don't have a fairly hefty belief-suspension gene. But if you can play along with the premise and ignore the foibles, you will be rewarded.
Review content copyright © 2012 Josh Rode; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site