Heroic figure rides again in a humorous, action-packed film for Turner Network Television. The Cisco Kid proves an ideal role for Jimmy Smits, and Cheech Marin has never been more appealing than he is as comic foil Pancho. Film is also Luis Valdez’s most across-the-board project yet, with even wider potential appeal than “La Bamba.”
Known best these days as the subject of a 1972 hit single by L.A. band War, the Cisco Kid was an outlaw in O. Henry’s turn-of-the-century short story and was dubbed “O. Henry’s Robin Hood of the Old West.” He was immortalized in a series of silents starring Stan Dunn and in talkies beginning with Warner Baxter. Cesar Romero gave Cisco the Latin identity he’d retain thereafter, followed by Gilbert Roland and — most successfully in several films and a ’50s TV series — Duncan Renaldo.
This “Cisco Kid,” re-invented by writer/director Valdez and co-scripter Michael Kane, outlines Cisco’s origins and first adventures. A Californian running guns to revolutionary Mexicans in 1867, he finds himself facing a French firing squad with another inmate, a cleric.
The two escape, and the priest — Pancho — tries to enlist Cisco in the revolution. “I don’t fight for causes,” he says, signaling to everyone who’s ever seen a revolution movie that he soon will be.
There’s very little here that will strike veteran Western viewers as novel, with the very important exception that all of the heroes are Latino and the villains are Cisco’s former gang of Texas outlaws and occupying French military.
Smits shows a fine comic touch as the vain, womanizing Cisco, and Marin plays the wise guy he’s been honing for more than 20 years, slightly toned down.
A bit of violence and language keep “The Cisco Kid” from being ideal for small children. Otherwise, it’s a welcome return for the characters and should bring knowing smiles to fans of Renaldo and Leo Carrillo (Pancho to Renaldo’s Cisco Kid), at least, when Smits and Marin join up at the end and greet each other with the familiar “Hey, Pancho!””Hey, Cisco!””Let’s ride!”