Films don’t come much stiffer than “Eastside,” a low-budget redemption tale that offers up a warm-‘n’-fuzzy twist on the life of an inner-city hoodlum. Dull perfs and duller dialogue add up to something that looks and sounds more like a rushed student project than a mainstream indie effort. Pic, which opened Friday in one L.A. theater, may resonate briefly among undemanding auds fed up with violence, but it won’t journey far beyond the barrio even in video.
Released from prison on his 21st birthday, Antonio (Mario Lopez) hooks up with his older brother, Horatio (Mark Espinoza), a stuffy L.A. attorney who lives in shame of his Latino heritage. Their bond is crime boss Armando De La Rosa (Efrain Figueroa), a local club owner who preys on anyone with a desire to make a fast buck. Horatio provides “consulting” for the gangster, while Antonio learns the collection ropes as a stylish thug who beats sense into debtors.
De La Rosa’s new project is to close down a youth shelter so he can build a casino on the valuable property. Chosen to carry out the dirty work, Antonio changes his tune after he meets the compassionate proprietor (Richard Lynch) and falls in love with his granddaughter (Elizabeth Bogush). Priorities now straightened, Antonio and Horatio try to end De La Rosa’s tyrannical reign over the foundation.
It’s certainly a plus that “Eastside,” despite all of its opportunities, stays away from stereotypes. The East L.A. streets it depicts are dangerous, though low-riders and tattoo-sporting toughies make way for more positive messages about second chances.
But that hardly redeems the pic’s other problems. Eric P. Sherman’s screenplay is too easy on everyone, containing little of the raw language or anger expected in a criminal milieu. It’s not helped much by Lorena David’s colorless direction, which takes no advantage of the rough attitudes framing the narrative.
As the bad-boy-turned-saint, Lopez is unconvincing as a young man who can steal cars and pull a trigger, and the supporting players are flat, with the exception of Lynch, who invests his worldly wise caretaker with a degree of spirituality.
Reviewed videocassette copy contains a host of technical problems that will be exaggerated on the bigscreen, including poor lighting and herky-jerky editing.