Here’s the thing about conventional wisdom: It needs to be demolished on occasion.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that a superhero movie star must be Caucasian or African American in order to be deemed profitable or necessary. Benjamin Bray’s new film, El Chicano, thankfully smashes that ideal to pieces.
A trailblazing film that packs a sinister punch with some of the best action sequences you will see on film this year. An old school thrill ride from The War Party Productions crew, which is currently remodeling Hollywood stereotypical homes left and right in order to produce a higher quality, and more authentic, brand of entertainment.
Check this out. Diego (Raul Castillo, a name you should remember) is a Los Angeles detective trying to stop the Mexican cartel from rolling across the border and bringing their lawless ways into his city. Aiding him in the fight is his partner, Detective Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), and Captain Gomez (George Lopez as you’ve never seen him before).
It’s not just the bloody cartel that consumes Diego; his long lost brother, Pedro (also played by Castillo), split off on a more violent path years ago and disappeared, leaving his younger brother to pick up the pieces of his mistakes. All the while, a mysterious warrior nicknamed El Chicano, haunts the streets, avenging evil doing and acting as judge, jury, and executioner.
Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the script with Bray and is the co-founder of War Party Productions, has said this movie is Narc meets Batman, and he couldn’t be more on point. What you have here is an exciting, realistic, and bad-to-the-bone action adventure film that shoots to thrill. The running time flies by like Chicano does after a kill, blazing through its 107 minutes.
There are no tricks or CGI overload; just good old fashioned stunt work from a guy who has lived and breathed the trade for over 25 years. Bray has worked on 128 different projects, including Carnahan’s 2012 underrated survival flick, The Grey, among many others. Credit him for the startling action sequences in this film. When bullets rip through a cop car during a stakeout, you’ll spontaneously feel your chest and seat for bullet holes. The action isn’t larger than life, yet pulverizes the viewer when it least expects it.
At the heart of the tale is a tireless pact between twin brothers who found their lives torn by walks down opposite trails. The films opens up in high-flying fashion, showing a young Diego and Pedro witnessing El Chicano lay waste to a few thugs on the streets before glaring out over his mask and under his hood at the kids. He’s a good, bad, or civil guy. He’s a necessary evil, or as Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris would say in Training Day, a wolf that is required to hunt and catch other wolves. You never forget the heartfelt touch Bray and Carnahan apply to Diego’s inner battles, and that in turn fuels the action.
Just wait until the one hour mark hits. Right when the law decides the badge can’t flex the proper muscle and certain tactics are required, El Chicano takes off, both literally and figuratively. What you get Batman mixed with The Punisher, but more sinister and driven. There’s no dead parents or family, just a rage against the machine.
One could say the filmmakers share some rage against the tired old Hollywood machine that wouldn’t produce this film. It took a lot of mileage, heart, passion, and grit for this film to see the light of day. It turns out Latino superheroes don’t carry much value in the make-believe sector of the West Coast. Wait until this film explodes onto the screen. When the trailer was released on March 27, it collected two million views in less than 48 hours. Maybe people want a new breed of superhero.
Thankfully, Bray and Carnahan employed the right actors. I had only seen Castillo in a supporting part in Netflix’s Seven Seconds, where he played a dirty cop. The part only allowed him to stretch a certain amount, but here as Diego, he sears straight through the screen. This is a performance that carries the second half of the film, through its pivotal moments.
Lopez shows you a side no one has seen yet. As Gomez, a former beat cop and now Captain in charge of taking down the Cartel, he slips into the part with ease and a force to be reckoned with. There’s a few scenes towards the end with Castillo and Lopez that have a boxing type rhythm to them, even eliciting a few laughs. Formerly known as a comedy guy, Gomez turns the page here. He’s the Latino Commissioner Gordon.
Aimee Garcia and David Castaneda give solid performances as people who challenge Diego in different ways. I loved seeing seasoned veterans like Sal Lopez, Marco Rameriz, and Emilio Rivera show up to play here as well. It’s a who’s who of Latino performers, and that’s the way it should be. Bray isn’t just breaking convention here; he’s dumping in the Pacific.
What is happening in El Chicano is aggressive genre expansion. Everywhere you look, someone is getting to do something that no one’s offered them before. Castillo as the lead hero. Lopez as the grizzled Captain, a dramatic part. A cast stuffed with 98% Latino actors. A budget just large enough to dazzle, with every penny earned. One would think Bray is trying to make a statement.
Oh, he certainly is. First, he’s picking up the baton from Chad Stahelski, a former stunt performer who changed the game with the John Wick trilogy, and pushing the envelope for more stunt performers and coordinators to have a chance to write and direct. Second, he’s giving the movie world something completely fresh and unforeseen in a fully powered Latino superhero.
Don’t let this hero ride by you. Buy a ticket, get in at the ground floor, and spread the word. El Chicano is coming, and this is only the beginning.