How do you begrudge such a goofy fun-loving picture? Hardly flawless and showing it's budget-induced fringes a quarter of the time, Beto Gómez's Saving Private Perez boasts an irresistible premise - a Mexican drug kingpin and a ragtag team of largely doughy enforcers travel to Iraq in order to rescue the boss' younger brother. Aside from the title and the goal of the mission, the nuances of Spielberg's would-be '98 Best Picture winner aren't granted even the tip of a cowboy hat. Instead, Gómez zeroes in on Julian Pérez (Miguel Rodarte), the head of what appears to be a vibrant crime family and a man who practices soft-spoken ferocity.
Julian is more of a Corleone than a Montana, and Saving Private Perez doles out brief flashbacks that show a young and fearless Julian beginning to hone the skill and will that would aid his rise to the top. Rodarte is a capable thespian, filling out Julian's initial lack of personality with a mix of macho disposition and sudden bouts of humility. When faced with his hospitalized mother, who fled to the States disgusted with her son's trade and reputation, Julian is hardly a threat.
Setting up the rescue of Juan Pérez, the younger brother, Gómez doesn't waste any time transitioning into the most entertaining part of the film: rounding up the team. Rodrigo Oviedo, Jesus Ochoa, Joaquin Cosio, and Gerardo Taracena portray the backup, and the scenes of their recruitment (and Oviedo's capture) feature a hint of wit and solid bits of action, Gómez's Achilles heel - when the team hit sandy soil on other side of the world, the action is plentiful but also choppy and poorly choreographed.
The first forty minutes are devoted to setting up the operation, and most viewers willing to stick with the film would have settled into the odd groove that's neither comedy nor action nor drama, but plays its outlandish premise straight. The humor is derived more from character interaction than non-stop physical gags, excepting a miniscule bit exhibiting a Mexican torture method. The team acts as essential but underdeveloped minions, though luckily the actors bring some punch and build on the camaraderie that stems within the crew.
Saving Private Perez wants us to be genuinely concerned with the life of one Juan Perez, although the film hardly functions as a thriller but rather as a West meets Middle East gun-toting dramedy. The men inexplicably don full cowboy get-ups, with Julian leading the charge in a garish shirt flapping open in the wind and several gold medallions hanging from a hairy chest. This is the kind of film where you either accept that a fighting squad made up of retired soldiers and bloodthirsty assassins wouldn't go in armed to the teeth, or you don't. Some limp commentary breaks in toward the end of the second act about Iraqis being unwittingly dragged into fighting a war with the US, but it doesn't stick and the film doesn't know what to do with it.
Saving Private Perez plays better than an affirmation of Mexican national pride than either an action parody, a family drama, a gangster epic, a bumbling comedy, or a witty satire. It's hardly propaganda, casting a gangster sitting atop of an empire made possible by the notorious drug trade, but in humanizing Juan Pérez and never taking itself so seriously that it becomes somber (until the finale, which overstays its welcome), the film is a fast-moving crowd-pleaser made less derivative by an injection of cultural flavor.
Saving Private Perez is hardly a showcase disk, but, presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, it's notably missing any visible flaws. The colors are a bit muted, but given the sun-baked locations of the film, it's a fair trade for heightened clarity.
The Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio is appropriately bombastic but again, hardly worth cranking up much. The Morricone-esque score is lovely though.
The Making of "Saving Private Perez" offers a cursory look at the production, but barely scratches the surface of how a Mexican film with an ambitious premise was realized and what problems might have plagued it along the way.
Saving Private Perez walks away with a confident Rent It, but a Recommended rating would have been equally adequate. Truth be told, you are likely to get more out of this film if you are even barely with Mexican culture, but it's certainly not a prerequisite. The picture certainly shouldn't serve as a cultural document, but for a fun time that occasionally skids off the beaten path, it's worth Netflixing.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...