A young American hooked on Hemingway plunges into dramatic Mexican adventures in the Eric Roberts starrer “La Cucaracha.” Despite a bantering, don’t-take-me-seriously tone, pic has a curiously dark side that is never fully explored. Vid sales are likely to be the main outlet for this watchable but in no way outstanding vehicle.
Walter (Roberts) is a bored New Jersey office worker who one day dumps everything to travel to Santiago, Mexico, and “be a writer.” The town turns out to be a dusty, dangerous place where survival is top priority. Offered a job as a hit man by leading citizen Jose Guerra (Joaquim De Almeida), Walter lets the illusion of riches tempt him, though he can’t go through with the twisted revenge killing of gentle Humberto (Victor Rivers). In a gunfight he is left for dead, but drags himself out of a shallow desert grave, paralyzed from the waist down, to track down Guerra and his fanatical American lieutenant Louis (Jack McManus).
There is material for serious nightmares here, particularly the hospital where Walter wakes up to discover he can’t move his legs and his desperate treks cross-country in a wheelchair. But helmer Jack Perez and scripter McManus draw the characters too lightly for psychological depth. Farcical dialogue uneasily contrasts the terrible, irreparable things that happen to the hero.
In the role of naive gringo turned avenger, the likable Roberts wins audience sympathy no matter what he does. Almeida, Rivers and Tara Crespo are gravely dignified as the story’s inscrutable Mexicans. Shawn Mauer’s lensing of the dust-bowl towns is simple and effective.