Movie Review: Cellmates
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Directed by: Jesse Baget
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Stars: 2 out of 5
"Cellmates" is a dramatic comedy that takes on the difficult issues of racism and illegal immigration. Starring Tom Sizemore, Hector Jiminez, Stacy Keach and Kevin P. Farley, the film is somewhat awkward but ultimately fearless in its treatment of contemporary, highly sensitive issues.
The story opens on Leroy Lowe (Tom Sizemore), a character who represents the epitome of racism. Lowe is a white supremacist and a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. He has spent a lifetime in Texas devoted to promoting racist attitudes and actions. When Lowe is convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion, he is sentenced to serve time at the Low Lee Tuna prison work farm. Although the conditions are not ideal, he is relatively complacent about his three-year sentence. His roommate, Bubba, is another member of the Ku Klux Klan, and the two have a comfortable friendship.
Lowe's world is turned upside down when Bubba dies. The ridiculous circumstances of Bubba's death are the first indication of the movie's trajectory. Lowe gets another blow with the arrival of his new cellmate, the sweet and nutty Emilio Ortiz (played by Hector Jiminez). Ortiz is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who has been sentenced to jail for property destruction. He presents an immediate problem for Lowe, who reels at the idea of a sharing a cell with a non-white immigrant.
The two form an unlikely friendship despite Lowe's feelings of disgust about Mexican immigrants. Ortiz's innate sweetness and gentle nature help a lot with winning Lowe over, and show him that not all illegal immigrants are out to steal from the American population. When Ortiz helps Lowe communicate with the Spanish-speaking Madalena (Olga Segura), Lowe shows the first signs of admitting that not all Mexicans are dastardly. Ortiz forces Lowe to examine his own deep-set prejudices, creating an uncomfortable inner tension within the blundering man.
Jiminez and Sizemore are the shining stars in the film as they do their best to make something out of a problematic script. Jiminez adopts the same kind of over-the-top Mexican caricature he used for his character in "Nacho Libre." Although he is a talented actor, his acting choices are questionable, particularly given the sensitive nature of the film. Instead of choosing to create a realistic portrayal of an illegal immigrant, Jiminez opted for a cartoonish character. His considerable skill allows him to carry it off, however, and his choice fits into the film's outlandish style.
Sizemore, who has demonstrated his acting abilities in numerous films-including a significant role alongside Tom Hanks in "The Green Mile"-fully embraces his distasteful character. His Leroy Lowe is full of self-righteous bluster and misguided certainty, giving audiences reason to dislike him right off the bat. Sizemore captures the character perfectly, giving him depth and fullness. From the thick, slurring Southern accent to the angry facial expressions, he creates a man who seems impossible to reform.
Both Sizemore and Jiminez give performances that are bigger than the movie itself. Writer Stefania Moscato and writer/director Jesse Baget seem to be aiming for a style similar to that of the Coen brothers, who are famous for their rambling dialogues. The plot-line fits into this style, but the "Cellmates" script is lightweight, giving its very capable lead actors little to work with. The idea behind the movie is admirable, but the execution falls flat. Baget takes on issues that are fraught with controversy and emotion and makes them into a sad, unfunny joke. A sense of discomfort pervades the film. Audiences are likely to squirm at the idiotic Mexican character and the fact that the white supremacist gets the romantic storyline. As a result of these choices, the movie feels slightly insulting to viewers.
The film's saving grace is its stellar cast. The supporting actors keep up with the leading actors, giving strong performances all around. Stacy Keach is entertaining as the warden, who is obsessed with potato farming. Olga Segura gives a realistic performance as the cleaning lady, despite her unlikely story line. Kevin P. Farley is dimwitted but inherently likable as the doomed Bubba. All of the cast members worked hard to make the most of their parts, giving a breath of life to a problematic script.
Overall, "Cellmates" is a reasonably entertaining movie that is suitable for adult audiences. Viewers who are willing to take it as it is will enjoy the comedic performances-as long as they can suspend disbelief and refrain from analyzing the movie's plot and characters too deeply.