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No Boundaries is melodramatic, amateurish, and cheaply made. It furtively addresses contemporary issues with all the subtlety of the very worst daytime soap opera. The characters are one-dimensional, the situations pat, and the visuals slapdash. In deference to an ancient maxim, I'll say nothing at all about the performances. Writer and co-director Violet Mendoza does not manage to find a compelling or original point of view with regard to one of the charged and dominant social and political topics of our time - illegal immigration.
Isabel (Dani Garza) leaves her home (an unspecified country south of the border) and winds up in Philadelphia, where she intends to earn money to send home to her sick mother. She finds a job and moral support in the form of her cousin and his friends. Shortly thereafter she begins a romance with Christopher (Mark McGraw), a boyish American who turns out to be an immigration officer.
As much as it would like to pretend otherwise, No Boundaries does not rip its story from the headlines - it builds it from an astonishing array of tiresome clichés. Where to begin enumerating them? The first scene, the tear-streaked parting of Isabel from her parents, plays like a parody of a social realist play from the 1930s. Upon arriving in America, Isabel takes up with a motherly, matronly black woman who has no shortage of sass. Isabel's romance with Christopher plays less like the Romeo and Juliet scenario that the DVD packaging would have you believe, and more like the ridiculously contrived "relationship" brought to mind by the combination of the words "immigration officer" and "illegal immigrant."
The writing is perfunctory - the dialogue in particular is atrocious. Situations arise without organic context, such as a drug bust gone bad that Christopher inexplicably flees. At one point, the passage of time is marked with a title card that reads "months pass." The drama plays out with no sense of urgency or human consequence. The music consists of too-loud songs shabbily mixed over the rest of the soundtrack. No Boundaries is not laughably bad - it doesn't have the absurdity or bizarre wit that a lot of "enjoyable" bad films have - it's just a sloppy, earnest, silly movie that is so dull and mindlessly constructed as to be almost unwatchable.
Image and Sound
No Boundaries is presented in a 1.77:1 letterboxed transfer. It's been years since I've seen a new release with a non-enhanced transfer. Oddly, the menus are enhanced - and so is the trailer! The image, as shot, looks homemade, with perfunctory lighting schemes that make the whole thing look like it was shot in an office building. The technical quality of the image is okay, but the non-enhanced transfer takes away from potential depth of contrast and richness of color. The soundtrack is in two-channel stereo, and as I mentioned in the body of my review, it's nothing special. Music is often overwhelming. Dialogue is clear enough.
A commentary track featuring co-directors Violet Mendoza and JakeWilling is far from enthralling, going over generic production anecdotes without offering anything to suggest that the film could have been anything other than a string of clichés bound together against a topical backdrop.
No Boundaries does not once give the impression that it was created out of that essential spark of inspiration that usually reveals itself - even in less-than-perfect films. It is a grindingly uninvolving story on every level. Skip it.