Movie Review: “Heli” Suffers From Lackluster Performances

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Review by James McDonald

Heli must try and protect his young family when his 12-year-old sister inadvertently involves them in the brutal drug world. He must battle against the drug cartel that have been angered as well as the corrupt police force.

“Heli” has some very disturbing scenes that are hard to forget. They are quite brutal but I felt that they were added more for shock value than to legitimately move the story forward. I found many of the characters to be very one-dimensional, especially the titular character of Heli, portrayed by Armando Espitia. This is listed as his very first movie and unfortunately, it shows. Mr. Espitia is simply incapable of emoting. Instead, he spends the entire movie moping from scene to scene, frowning when he is mad and huffing and puffing when things don’t go his way. A lot of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of director Amat Escalante.

While Mr. Escalante has indeed produced a gritty drama with some beautiful photography, many of the actors throughout just cannot act. In order for the viewer to be able to connect to a story of this magnitude, the characters have to resonate with us, in order for us to be able to feel and empathize with them. Regrettably, most of the performances are blank and expressionless. The story takes place in a small Mexican town and introduces us to Heli, a young man with a wife, Sabrina (Linda González) and baby. They live in a small house along with Heli’s dad and his 12 year-old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) and both Heli and his dad work in a local automotive factory, Heli working the night shift while dad works during the day.

Estela is going out with Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios) who is 17 years-old and is training to be a police officer. He is madly in love with her and wants to marry her and move away so they can have a better life together. One night, he takes Estela in his car to an old abandoned house. He tells her that supposedly a UFO crashed there and when they try to approach it, they are scared away by a vicious dog. The next evening, Beto goes back by himself, killing the dog in the process and then uncovers, not a UFO but two large packages of cocaine. He leaves them with Estela, telling her that they can now have a better life but when Heli discovers them, he takes them to a large watering hole and discards each of them.

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The next day, masked men break into the house, killing Heli’s dad in the process and kidnap both Heli and Estela where they are both separated and Heli is beaten senseless. He is eventually released and makes his way back home where the police interrogate him but he never tells them why he and his sister were taken, afraid that they might misunderstand the situation and accuse Heli and his family of being members of the drug cartel whose packages he dumped. Heli and Sabrina get on with their lives until one day, Estela turns up at the front door. After having been examined by a doctor, they are informed that she is pregnant, obviously raped by her abductors.

I admire the filmmakers for trying to present a realistic story, complete with authentic characters but what we end up getting, is a rambling narrative, filled with lackluster performances and an anti-climactic finale. There were some moments where Heli had the opportunity to show his genuine frustration and heartache over losing his father and his sister’s abduction but instead, he just looks stolid and impassive. I understand that everyone reacts differently to divergent situations but he has the same stoic look on his face the entire movie. With a better cast, this movie would have most certainly soared in terms of emotional vitality. As a lack of it though, sadly, it never climbs above mediocre.

In select theaters June 13th

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James McDonald
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