Monday, September 24, 2012

Camilo Vila's 186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM, Peruvian prison movie, opens in NY & L.A.

We've had naive, young Americans hauled off to a Turkish prison in 1978's Midnight Express, a Chilean prison (1982's Missing), a prison in Thailand (1999's Brokedown Palace) and now a Peruvian prison in the badly-named 186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM. There have probably been a number of other Americans-in-foreign-prison films, but these four jump quickly to mind, the last because it just opened this past Friday here in New York City and will open this coming Friday in Los Angeles, the other three because they boasted big-name stars and/or were somewhat-to-very successful.

Formerly (and much more interestingly) titled City of Gardens, the new Dollars/Freedom film, based (and ain't they all) on real-life events, tracks Wayne, a young American surfer/
teacher riding waves and working in Peru, who is arrested one sunny day for little or no reason and then imprisoned on trumped-up drug charges. As co-written (with Monty Fisher) and directed by Camilo Vila (shown at left), the film is part romantic drama (mostly via flashbacks), part political
/cultural treatise, and part torture porn. As you might surmise these parts do not work together well to provide an edifying whole.

The problem is not so much that the parts could not coalesce as that they simply don't. The flashbacks are used in clunky fashion, the expository treatise sections are explained to our imprisoned hero with i's dotted and t's crossed ("I had no idea there was so much suffering here," he then exclaims), and the torture porn (above), when it finally arrives, has our naked hunk trussed up and bled like a pig. And then suddenly -- spoiler just ahead -- he's seen sprinting off to freedom when, by all rights, he ought to be bleeding to death. Filmmakers, please: If you insist on feeding us this sugared crap, would you at least try to make it a tad believable.

On the plus side, the cast assembled for the movie is certainly watchable. In the lead role is one, John Robinson (above). Remem-ber that platinum blond kid from nearly a decade ago in Gus van Sant's Elephant and Lords of Dogtown? He's grown up some and here sports a nice body, on display a lot. Facially, he looks like he could easily play Patrick Wilson's younger brother. His acting? Acceptable, if not inspired. However, his character is way beyond the adjective naive. (In the movie, Wayne calls himself stubborn, yet in these particular circumstances it registers more like stupid.)

In prison Wayne makes both a good friend and a bad enemy -- played respectively by Johnny Lewis (above) and Alex Meraz (below). The former has a secret rooftop garden that makes the movie's former title even more pertinent.

The seen-mostly-in-hot-flashbacks lady in Wayne's life is played by the very beautiful Anahí de Cárdenas (below), who brings a hint of passion -- not something we get much of from Mr. Robinson -- to the proceedings.

Probably the best-known performer, film-wise, would be Deborah Kara Unger (below), as the glacial and exceedingly unhelpful representative from the American consul.

The award for weirdest role/performance goes to Grant Bowler (below), who plays Jesus Christ. Mr Christ, an inmate rather than the original (though the latter might have proven more original) comes onto the scene out of the blue (or the murk) and quite late in the film, and from that point on, things move from hairy to hairier, culminating in a whirlwind of carnage and idiocy, followed by the ususal title cards that advise us what happened -- to Peru and to our hero. If this movie is based on fact, then somebody, as a certain Señor Ricardo used to say, has some further 'splainin' to do.

186 Dollars to Freedom -- from Four Fish Films LLC, and running around 100 minutes -- opened this past Friday in New York City at the Quad Cinema and will open on Friday, September 28, in Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex.

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