Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Happy Birthday: Welcome to Mexicali, Drunken Gringos
Mexicali is surprisingly peaceful for a large Mexican border town. Some
speculate this is because the Sinaloa Cartel has taken over lock, stock, and
smoking barrel. Regardless, two bros are determined to have an anecdote-worthy
adventure in debauchery there. They might just get their wish if they survive
their abduction in Casey Tebo’s Happy
which opens this Friday in New York.
is not really inclined to spend his birthday drinking and drugging through
Mexicali, but when he discovers his girlfriend has cheated on him, he agrees to
the plans of his Maxim magazine-brained
best bud Tommy. The cock fights and peyote really aren’t his bag, but things
perk up when they start hanging with Katie and Lucia. Unfortunately, instead of
party girls, they are lures for the kidnapping-extortion racket run by the
local drug lord. Suddenly, the trip isn’t fun anymore, especially for Brady,
who rather inconveniently happens to be an orphan with no rich parents to pay
the smartest bits in the film convey how Brady’s experiences in foster care
gave him the survival skills necessary to endure and possibly turn the tables.
On the other hand, the New Age peyote dealer (played by a shamelessly hammy
Steven Tyler) and the sundry dodgy fixers and dubious tour guides are painfully
shticky. Frankly, many of the stereotype stock characters in Birthday look and sound like they should
be delivering taco salad to Donald Trump.
Matt Bush’s Brady exhibits appealingly geeky fortitude during the second act,
where the film prematurely peaks. Britne Oldford (from Syfy’s Hunters) also makes a dynamite femme
fatale as Lucia. As the quiet lure, Vanessa Lengies is attractive, but not much
else, yet that is rather refreshing compared to Riley Litman’s abrasively
annoying Ugly American routine as the entitled Tommy.
Although it goes out of its way to sound hip and
progressive, Tebo’s screenplay rather ironically makes a convincing case for
the border wall Trump apparently no longer believes in. There are flashes of
gritty inspiration here and there, but any reasonably intuitive viewer can see
the big twists coming from a mile away. Neither distinctive or offensive enough
to make a strong impression, Happy
Birthday opens this Friday (9/9) in New York, at the Cinema Village.