DIFF Movie Review: ‘Tejano’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

For a film about dying grandfathers and getting tangled up with Mexican drug cartels, Tejano has its share of humorous moments. Fleeing border patrol and desperate for a way back into the United States, Javi (Patrick Mackie) stares through a towering fence at two immigrants on the other side. “How did you make it over?” he asks them. The pair gestures to his right, where the iron fence abruptly ends. It’s a genuinely funny moment in the middle of a tremendously tense situation, one that also points a sly finger at some of the absurdities in current political discourse. Unfortunately, great moments such as this one are hampered by some equally absurd, unintentionally funny moments and a massive doofus at the story’s center.

Javi works on a farm in South Texas, only a few miles from the Texas/Mexico border and the city of Matamoros, where his girlfriend Lorena (Mayra Leal) works as a pharmacist. He has been scrimping and saving so that the pair can relocate to their own apartment in San Antonio. It’s a plan his elderly grandfather (Roland Uribe) still doesn’t know about, and when his health takes a drastic turn for the worse, Javi must spend most of his cash on medical bills. Desperate to keep his promise to Lorena, he turns to friend and corrupt border patrol agent Duke (Brian Bogart) to help him make some quick money flipping a shipment of cocaine. When Duke and a masked companion steal his last reserves instead, Javi has no choice but to turn to Adelio (Adrian Gonzalez), Lorena’s brother with cartel connections, to make up the shortfall.

The cartel’s leader Gloria (Emma Perez-Trevino) offers him one option: break his arm, then smuggle a cast full of cocaine across the border in exchange for $10,000. Javi agrees. When the plan goes sideways at the border, however, he must go on the run from both the American’s and Gloria’s hitmen.

One thing working in Tejano’s favor is that it’s beautifully shot. Even the cumbersome wind turbines breaking up the South Texas horizon look good. Uribe shines as the tough grandfather, earning both laughs and cheers as he tries to steer Javi away from trouble. Gonzalez was a pleasant surprise as well. His vain, social media savvy gangster is an entertaining mix of ridiculous and threatening. Yet try as he might to salvage the character, Patrick Mackie gets saddled with a bland and naïve young man for the lead. At alternating times, we’re meant to believe that Javi is both wily and inescapably dumb, but you can’t have it both ways. He also pulls off some acrobatics in the final stand more suited to a Marvel superhero movie than a ragtag shoot-out.

It’s gorgeous to watch and starts off with a great hook, but Tejano winds up being too unevenly constructed to realize its full potential.

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