An unusual political thriller from Chile, “Johnny 100 Pesos” has definite international arthouse appeal thanks to its energetic, original slant on crime and politics in the Third World. A mix of a lot of familiar genre conventions, pic has been popping up on the fest circuit for several months and marks director/co-writer Gustavo Graef Marino as a talent worth watching, a filmmaker who knows how to twist the conventional into his own unique vision.
Pic takes the heist-gone-wrong premise to new extremes. Johnny (Armando Araiza) is the youngest member of a gang that has earmarked a video club (actually a money-laundering operation) for its current job. Problem is that they take too long to execute their plan, and a silent alarm triggers the arrival of an army of police.
Matters only get worse when the media descend on the scene. Situation reaches its zenith when the crooks pose as terrorists and demand a plane to Cuba as part of their hostage demands.
While the obvious parallel here is to “Dog Day Afternoon,” Marino has more complicated turf to explore given the internecine nature of South American politics. He also paints a devastating picture of Latin TV journalists, whose elevation of Johnny to media cause celebre goes from the heady to the scabrous as the portrait contorts into the classic good boy gone wrong.
The modest production provides “Johnny” with a gritty, almost docu-like surface that complements the drama. There is a raw, edgy quality to narrative and editing that heightens the implicit sense of danger.
Araiza is a charismatic performer, and ensemble cast works like a well-oiled machine. But mostly it’s filmmakers’ ability to keep the audience surprised at every plot twist that makes pic unique and refreshing.
A definite crowd pleaser, “Johnny 100 Pesos” will require a bit of clever promotion to lure audiences. But it’s exactly the type of smart thriller that can play upscale and cross into the mainstream in U.S. and Euro outlets.