It's always a shame when a film doesn't live up to personal expectations, but it's even worse when you actually feel ashamed about looking forward to it in the first place. Case in point: at first glance, A Day Without A Mexican (2004) really looked like my kind of movie. In short, it looked to provoke those who judge books by their covers, all the while winking at those who were really in on the joke. Directed by Sergio Arau, this film depicts the state of California for just one day without its Mexican population...and, on many levels, the state is thrown into turmoil.
Angry, well-to-do white people are left without housekeepers and manual laborers. Restaurants are left without cooks and busboys. Heck, the entire state is left without the acting Lieutenant Governor.
A Day Without A Mexican absolutely fails as a satire, but at least it has a decent premise. Through one chaotic day, we see how the disappearance of California's Mexican population affects the community: these people are wives and husbands, dependable workers, friends. Of course, there's more to a film than the basic plot, and this is where A Day Without A Mexican falls flat.
Many successful satires are able to tread the line of bad taste carefully, but A Day Without A Mexican is terribly insulting to any audience, regardless of race. The condescending tone of the film borders on racist towards non-Mexicans, as there are more blatant stereotypes and cliches in this film than any other I've seen in recent memory. The film's constant use of "pop-up" facts to point out common racial misconceptions gets old fast. Entire social circles are painted with the broadest of strokes, from the whiny helplessness of the upper class to the rabid religious ramblings of Doomsday zealots. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with a film that intends to speak out against racism, but A Day Without A Mexican makes the mistake of fighting fire with fire.
After all, if you really want to convince people that you're a valuable part of society, you shouldn't insist that they'd be blubbering, helpless idiots without you.
To make matters worse, the film looks plays like a first-year film school project...and a sub-par one at that. While I'm not one to thumb my nose at a shoestring-budget film, A Day Without A Mexican suffers from poor performances and bad overall design. The acting is easily the most glaring problem from a general standpoint, as there are very few convincing performances to be found anywhere. To be fair, most of the characters aren't anything special to begin with, but I've seen better performances from the supporting cast of a slasher flick. Although other key players don't have a problem getting into character, it only makes the cartoonish stereotypes harder to stomach.
The overall look of the film is especially amateurish, as the film is littered with unconvincing "news flashes" and infomercial-quality scene transitions. Heck, the film's grainy flashback sequences make Clerks look crystal clear. The pacing is another real problem, as it plods along much slower than a 98-minute film has any right to. In short: it's hard to sit through A Day Without A Mexican without wincing a few times, and it's not always from the story itself. Overall, I can't think of many films that have disappointed me more in recent memory...and I was the guy that reviewed Gigli!
In the right hands, A Day Without A Mexican could have really made a poignant statement about racism in America; unfortunately, this film doesn't tell us much we don't already know. To make matters worse, the only snippets of useful information are presented with all the subtlety and tact of a fluorescent orange picket sign. After a very short theatrical run, the inevitable DVD presentation comes to us courtesy of Xenon. The lackluster technical presentation is largely due to the film's low production values, but there are other issues that don't help matters any. Even a decent spread of bonus materials doesn't really make this release worth hunting down. Still, against all better judgement, let's see how this disc stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in the film's original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, A Day Without A Mexican isn't exactly a feast for the eyes. For starters, the lack of anamorphic enhancement---especially in this day and age---kills this one right out of the gate. To be fair, though, the image itself isn't all bad. Daytime scenes are bright and clear, with a bold color palette and good contrast levels. Unfortunately, there are a number of digital problems here, from terrible aliasing problems to the grainy nature of the film's digital video origins. There's also a modest amount of edge enhancement, and the low levels of image detail couldn't have been helped much anyway. Overall, this is a fairly poor presentation, though I doubt there's much that could have been done with this one.
The audio fares slightly better, though not by much. The dialogue is off-and-on, but can usually be understood clearly. Some of the audio synch is fairly poor, as many voices don't quite match up to the characters onscreen. Only the music provides a pleasing soundstage, coming in clearly from several directions. Although I doubt a terrific audio presentation would have made me like the film any better, the problems here are just more wood for the fire.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
To get a good idea of the low-budget design work on A Day Without A Mexican, check out the menu designs above. Sure, they fit the tone of the film pretty well, but that isn't a good thing in this case. Still, it's hard to complain, as the menus designs are easy to navigate despite their poor overall design. The film itself has been divided into a dozen chapters, and no layer change was detected during playback. The packaging consists of a standard black keepcase with chapter insert. Strangely enough, only Spanish subtitles have been included (although several of the bonus features are presented with burned-in English captions when needed).
Although they're hardly anything to write home about, the extras included here are actually a bit more entertaining than the film itself. First up is a 23-minute Making-Of Documentary, as it follows the cast and crew around during and after production. It covers a decent amount of ground for its short running time, touching on equal parts personal experience and technical information. The most interesting extra, however, is the 28-minute Original Short Film of the same name. It's actually a more interesting execution of the story, and shows how bloated the finished product is in comparison. It's not without it's share of problems, but it's actually much closer to what the director should have aimed for. Next up is a series of Outtakes (Deleted Scenes) that are hit-and-miss, as well as a Music Video by Los Yoguis for the song "Sin Decir Adios". There's also a selection of Trailer & TV Spots as well as Previews for other Xenon releases.
As much as I wanted to like A Day Without A Mexican, it proved to be a pretty miserable viewing experience overall. I guess it just goes to show you: there's much more to a movie than an attention-getting premise. With poor performances, insulting characters and a condescending attitude, this lackluster release is better left sitting on the shelf. In this reviewer's opinion, it's not even worth a $4 rental fee...let alone the $20 retail price. By all means, Skip It.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.