In 10 Words or Less
The rise and fall of a salsa singer with big dreams
There's a bit on one of David Cross' comedy albums where he talks about all the wannabe actors in Hollywood, and how they all think they have what it takes to make it in the business. But in reality, only a handful of the hundreds of thousands who try will ever reach their goals. It's the harsh cold reality of the business of entertainment and arts (and the reason why I'm reviewing Crossover Dreams and not taking meetings at Paramount.)
As singer Rudy Veloz, singer/actor Ruben Blades (The Milagro Beanfield War) takes on this reality head-first, trying to break out of the salsa "ghetto" and into mainstream stardom. Viewing his music as the only way out of the "hole" he is in, he seeks to leave behind the friends, family and home that make up that hole. This, the question is asked, it is better to be a big fish in the small pond you grew up in or risk the jump to a bigger pond where you might end up alone? Rudy has to answer that very question if he wants to chase his dreams.
Along the way, he has friends, family and supporters who all have their own point of view on his quest, and overwhelmingly, they are concerned that his dream of becoming big will cost him everything that makes him who he is. His name, his music, his band and his life, they are all variables to Rudy that can change if it takes him one step closer to his vision of success.
Interestingly, Rudy's character changes from when we first meet him to when success is within his reach. Usually, in cautionary tales like Rudy's, the dark side of the main character is established early, but here, there's a chance to actually like Rudy. It's this opportunity that makes Rudy's turnaround more powerful, almost putting the viewer in the same seat as Rudy's friends. It's rare when a hero betrays the audience, but highly effective as well.
Blades is very comfortable in Rudy's skin, creating a multi-dimensional character from an archetype that's been seen again and again in movies. Elizabeth Pena, playing Rudy's live-in girlfriend, doesn't get nearly as much to do as the put-upon female, but she doesn't turn the character into a caricature, instead inhabiting it and working within its limits as a realistic anchor that counter's Rudy's flighty nature. Also impressive is Shawn Elliot as Rudy's best friend Orlando, whose own career is tied closely to Rudy's, leaving him open to being hurt when Rudy's life changes.
Director Leon Ichaso (Pinero) handles them well, in what feels like a visual love letter to a New York that doesn't anymore. He uses a unique rooftop perspective of the city to establish a sense of solitude and loneliness and employs a variety of visual tricks to avoid telling the story in a straightforward style, utilizing voiceover, long takes without cuts and non-traditional editing to achieve a different feel. It doesn't always work, but it showed his potential as an artist.
The ending of the film didn't satisfy me, coming off extremely pat and contradictory to the conflicts set up by the previous 80-plus minutes. Any message the film intended to deliver about friendship or identity or loyalty was blunted by a conclusion that seemed rushed and a tad too "happy" for a film so "real."
New Yorker Video has released this film just in time for its 20th anniversary, on one disc, packaged in a standard black keepcase with a four-page insert that features photos from the film and a chapter listing. The disc features a static anamorphic widescreen main menu with options to play the film, select scenes and view the theatrical trailer. There's also a menu choice to view promos from other New Yorker Video releases. Scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while there are no audio or subtitle options and no closed captioning.
After 20 years, this movie doesn't look so hot, and it's unlikely that this low-profile film has a Criterion-level restoration in its future. Dirt and scratches abound in this anamorphic widescreen transfer, and because much of the film takes place in dark locales, they are very obvious. There's also quite a bit of noise and grain, and the level of detail is just OK. The best visual aspect of this release is the color, which is actually vibrant without bleeding or shimmering. If you look at this movie you'd immediately guess its age, which is never a good thing.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, providing enough oomph to deliver the extensive amount of Latin music in the film's soundtrack with a kick. These songs are easily the best part of the film. Dialogue and sound effects are presented at a similar level of quality, though they sometimes get a bit muddy when the mix gets heavy.
The only extra is a letterboxed theatrical trailer. The transfer is a bit dirty, but its status as a mid-'80s independent trailer makes it somewhat intriguing. Especially the fact that it was released in the early days of Miramax Films.
The Bottom Line
While the story of the dreaming underdog shooting for the stars is nothing new (and wasn't new 20 years ago), doing it with a salsa-singing Latino was certainly unique and still is today to some extent. By making the story an ethnic one, the concept of identity is introduced, which makes this better than the average beat-the-odds film in terms of the story. This is hardly the most polished film, but it definitely showed the promise that both Blades and Ichaso held, and it has an excellent soundtrack. The DVD doesn't give the film an optimal presentation, and it's not dripping with extras either, so most people will want to test the waters with a rental before diving in with a purchase.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.