La Cucaracha (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You probably think Eric Roberts hasn't made a good movie in the past 15 years. Lord knows, I've had enough laughs at his expense, but this one is pretty damned good, and won "best picture" awards at several film festivals. Furthermore, Eric does a good job in an exceedingly complex role.
This movie is unique - offbeat, sad, and funny. A serious film, but also a blacker-than-black comedy with an undercoating of deep, deep sadness. It's a literate film, tautly directed, with some of the most inventive and poetic dialogue I've heard, from the same writer and the same director as the equally offbeat The Big Empty. In a way it is "about" the same thing as The Big Empty - men who reach the very bottom of the barrel and start to remake themselves from the ground up, often with detours along the way. 


Eric Roberts plays some kind of a down-on-his-luck, would-be writer who ran off to Mexico to run away from the pain of love, and to write the great novel. After a streak of bad luck, he finds himself drunk and isolated, living in a ramshackle shed on the outskirts of a nowhere town. One day he's offered a measure of redemption. A rich local man will pay him $100,000 to kill the homosexual man who raped and killed his son. Of course, this all turns out to be a set-up. The man killed his own son when he couldn't face the fact that the boy was a homosexual, and now he wants the lover out of the way. They only want to hire Eric to kill the lover because nobody will know or care when they then kill Eric himself. 

Eric can't do it, but that doesn't matter. The lover is despondent and tired of living in fear. He wants to die, takes Eric's gun, kills himself. The rich guy's henchmen then kill Eric.

Only one problem. Eric refuses to die. He is paralyzed from the waist down, and spends months in the hospital, but he lives. And now, for the first time, as he says, he has a raison d'etre. He is a mad wheelchair killer, bent on revenge.

Eric finds out that revenge isn't all its cracked up to be. At first, Eric kind of enjoys killing the henchman who had put two bullets in his spine, but then he has to come to grips with looking at the pain of the guy's family, and the reality of killing isn't very pleasant. It gets even more difficult when he goes after Mr Big. Or maybe he only wants to get involved in killing these other guys because he wants to die himself.

I can't spoil the rest for you. It's too good. Rent it and watch it.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • Full-length director commentary, also featuring Eric Roberts. They really didn't know what to say, so skip it and watch the film.

As with The Big Empty, the director uses the visuals and music beautifully to enhance the tone, and I found my eyes misting over at a couple of scenes. 

I am really becoming a big fan of the team of Jack Perez (director) and James McManus (writer/actor). Black comedies aren't easy to pull off, especially when they incorporate a bittersweet tone, semi-poetic overtones, and an underlying humanity. These two NYU film school guys are magical together, and they do it with minimal budgets and time. (The entire film was shot in 18 days). More, gentlemen! 

Note: one drawback to the DVD. I guess there must be a widescreen version, because there was a brief theatrical release. So where is it?

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Austin Chronicle 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5 
  • With their dollars ... virtually nothing. 11 screens, $32,000. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. A favorite on the festival circuit that never made it in the commercial world.

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