The rise and fall of a salsa singer with big dreams
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."
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.
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