Not quite broad enough to work as a rollicking adventure, while too melodramatically pitched to serve as a Robin Hood-style tale, “The Tiger of Santa Julia” ends up being a mildly interesting revisiting of the exploits of Jose de Jesus Negrete, aka El Tigre de Santa Julia, during the Mexican Revolution. Production requires a more robust treatment than what’s applied by helmer Alejandro Gamboa, whose welcome taste for lustiness is canceled by weak handling of the action sequences. Pic opened in Mexico after al fresco preem at fledgling Puerto Rico Sunfest. Though bolstered by presence of pop star and Gamboa favorite Iran Castillo, B.O. will be moderate at best, with subject matter limiting Latin American export.
Born and tossed out a window onto a maguey plant according to legend, El Tigre’s origins give pic’s early minutes visual surprise and texture. At age 20, he ends up in the home of his hooker aunt Simona (Isaura Espinoza) and, finally, in her bed. Joining the army after catching the flirtatious eye of Gloria (Castillo), he refuses to fire on innocent strikers, thus starting a long-running battle with evil commanding officer Calleja (Adalberto Parra, who does everything but twirl his moustache).
In 1906, after a terrible episode during battle that compels him to go AWOL, El Tigre earns his nickname in a street fight in the town of Santa Julia with an abusive thug. His heroics draw a core of gutsy and sexy gals, including Ines (Anilu Pardo), Tomasa (Cristina Michaus) and Rosa (Ivonne Montero), as well as Simona and Gloria. Latter proves to be the least likely to get in the sack with the horny El Tigre, but is by far his sharpest ally as he forms a gang a la Robin Hood.
El Tigre is egged on by elderly scribe Nando (vet Mexican thesp Fernando Lujan) — the writer embellishing the good thief’s every exploit just to get under the pursuing Calleja’s skin. The myth shows how fact and fiction can be blurred almost immediately after the act, but instead of meshing this aspect with Calleja’s dogged quest, Gamboa’s script (based on Francisco Sanchez’s story) too often drifts off into silly sexual roundelays and other distractions which pad the more-than-two-hour running time.
Pic sags considerably in the final two reels, failing to heighten the tension as the authorities bear down on El Tigre. At the same time, Rodarte’s performance is fine as long as he emphasizes El Tigre’s sheer nerve, but he doesn’t put across either the comic absurdity of a commoner suddenly thrust into a hero’s role or the subsequent drama of sensing that the jig is up. Except for the reliable Lujan, cast is way over-the-top, whether the assignment is to be a sexed-up senorita or a nasty nemesis.
Lensing tends to overdo lighting effects; the sense of a tall tale is better suggested by several set pieces deliberately made to appear shot on a sound stage, capped with artificial skies.