A mostly entertaining drama from Santo Domingo about what happens when a rich kid swaps places with a poor one, “Junior” is often downright clumsy but is largely remedied by the freshness and liveliness of its perfs. Mixing soap opera and social criticism into an eclectic whole that seems happily unaware of genre conventions, pic irks and charms by turns in its lack of sophistication. With its cast of high-profile Latin American entertainers, pic has played well at home but offshore won’t travel much further than fests.
Rich kid Junior (Frank Perozo) and self-improving poor kid Yuniol (Shalim Ortiz) study at the same high school. Much to the chagrin of Junior’s high-strung mom Aurora (vet chanteuse Charityn Goyco, Ortiz’s real-life mother), Yuniol gets the best math grades.
Wanting her boy to learn some math, Aurora sends Junior to find Yuniol in the barrios of Santo Domingo, where, sure enough, the wheels of his car are stolen.
Yuniol spends some time living the luxury lifestyle with Junior’s family and impressing his own buddies by driving Junior’s convertible. Junior eventually decides to go and live on the poor side of the tracks with Yuniol and his mother, Tata (singer Milly Quezada, debuting). It’s here that Junior’s moral education begins, and he learns that friendship is possible across the social divide.
The light comedy of the early scenes becomes a fable about the social tensions underlying Santo Domingo society, as repped by a couple corrupt cops. However, the treatment is generally sanitized, with drugs and prostitution given a wide berth. Pic’s conclusion is simply heavy-handed moralizing.
A few standout perfs — from Rene Castillo as lanky gang member Yeyo, and Cuquin Victoria as Junior’s world-weary father, as well as from Goyco and Quezada — largely compensate for Perozo’s lackluster central playing. The real problem lies with the script and editing, with go-nowhere scenes either dragged out too long or strangely cut short. Visually, pic is straightforward, though the low budget shows when big effects are required.
Soundtrack moves between hip-hop, sloppy ballads and typically upbeat Latino fare.