J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Mission Park: San Antonio Vice

To showcase San Antonio as potentially a third American “coastal” center of film production, executive producer Armando Montelongo (of A&E’s Flip this House) has shepherded to movie screens a tale of the city’s ruthless drug lords and corrupt cops.  There’s also the Alamo.  Viewers will see plenty of the cinematic city when two FBI agents go undercover to bust their childhood friends in Bryan Anthony Ramirez’s Mission Park (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

When they were about middle school age, Jason shot and robbed the owner of their favorite neighborhood restaurant, with Derek pretending to help, as Bobby and Julian stood around hoping he wouldn’t.  The quartet split in the duos, with Bobby and Julian going on to college and eventually the FBI academy and their former mates heading into a life a crime.  Upon graduation, the bureau capitalizes on those past friendships, sending first Bobby and then Julian out to infiltrate Jason’s operation.  Going home is strange for the undercover agents, particularly Bobby, who finds his old never-quite-got-over-her girlfriend, Gina, is now hanging on Jason’s expensively tailored arm.

Granted, the past weighs heavily on these characters (for good reason), but Ramirez takes over a third of the film establishing their backstories.  At least half an hour goes by before there is any real undercover business.  However, viewers get an in-joke cameo from Vivica A. Fox as Special Agent Montelongo.

Even when it finally gets going, Mission is pretty standard gangster stuff.  However, a consistently strong cast does its best to enliven and elevate the material.  Jeremy Ray Valdez makes a strong cop-on-the-edge, while Walter Perez matches him nicely, projecting Jason’s cool cunning.  However, Joseph Julian Soria (also a standout in the relatively okay All She Can) really brings some pop to his scenes as the insecure and resentful Derek.  While her character is not especially well delineated, Fernanda Romero (who showed some legit comic chops in Ghost Team One) still makes an impression as Gina, the deeply flawed ex.  For added cult film appeal, Boondock Saints’ Sean Patrick Flannery also shows up as the Captain.

Ramirez’s script is deadly serious in its respect for themes of family, sacrifice, and redemption, which is somewhat refreshing.  It just needed a bit more “Crocket & Tubbs” style action.  Earnest and well performed, Mission Park is a presentable outing on behalf of San Antonio’s budding film industry (Tonywood?) that ought to perform well within its target Southwestern geographical region.  For New Yorkers, it is mildly diverting, but not exactly worth the price of City movie tickets.  It opens tomorrow (9/6) at the AMC Empire in Midtown.

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