Thursday, September 14, 2017

José María Cabral's WOODPECKERS, a prison melodrama via the Dominican Republic, opens

It's been awhile since TrustMovies has seen a decent film set in a Latino prison (the 2012 Get the Gringo may have been the last one), so this new movie from Dominican filmmaker José María Cabral proves, for awhile anyway, a welcome change of pace. Taking place in one not-so-hot prison in the Dominican Republic, and then for its final half hour or so in another, even worse, behind-bars venue, WOODPECKERS (Carpenteros) acquaints us with the plight of a new inmate named Julián, played by the charismatic Haitian-born, Dominican-raised actor Jean Jean. As Julián and we learn the ropes in this new environment, we discover that, as ever, these ropes include mostly the usual: the pecking order, cruel guards, good guys and the bad, crummy food and lodging, and one oddity that stands out from the rest.

That would be the sign language the inmates use to communicate from afar with the female inmates in the prison next door, which makes these men the Woodpeckers of the movie's title. (How this name came about is also explained to us via the usual exposition.)

Señor Cabral, shown at right, does a good job of immediately submerging us into this milieu and quickly setting up the situation in which his protagonist (the svelte M. Jean, pictured below, left) and antagonist (a beefy, bonkers inmate named Manaury, played by the excellent Ramón Emilio Candelario, below, right) are pitted against each other. The reason for their antagonism is, of course, the woman -- Yanelly -- with whom Manaury has been "woodpecking." (And, yes, she's the pretty, spirited spitfire of all those women-in-prison movies you know and love.) When Manaury, who's always misbehaving, is sent to a place where he can no longer visually connect with her, he teaches Julián how to do this for him. Guess what happens?

Shucks: you already have! So from here, we move from threats to actual physical harm, as our new twosome (that's Judith Rodriguez Perez as Yanelly, below, left) moves farther from that nasty third wheel. All this is filmed with plenty of panache and pizzazz, and the performances from the entire cast are believable and up-to-snuff.

What becomes a problem is the coincidence that keeps popping up -- would an inmate so casually toss his prized cell phone on the cot then leave the room so it could be easily stolen? -- as well as the all-out melodramatic crescendo with which the movie closes, in which every last expected emotion is wrung from every last expected situation.

Now, some of  you may easily fall for all this (The New York Times reviewer certainly did), but I guess I've just seen too much of this too often to wholeheartedly give over again. Woodpeckers is fun, however, and energetic and full of enough incident to keep you relatively hooked -- the fixing of a broken air conditioner is one such event -- even if the 106-minute running time is a tad long for this kind of film.

From Outsider Pictures, in Spanish with English subtitles, the movie opens tomorrow in  the New York City area at the AMC Empire 25, Regal's UA Kaufman Astoria Stadium 14 and the Concourse Plaza Multiplex Cinemas in the Bronx, with a limited national release to follow. Here in South Florida it will open next Friday, September 22, at Miami's Tower Theater and AMC's Aventura 24. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, theaters and cities.

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