Robbing Peter

Helmer Mario F. de la Vega's salute to irony, crime comedy, multi-gun standoffs, deadpan dialogue and loop-the-loop story structure. Some will read pic, about a first-time gun-for-hire in trouble, as mere imitation of a style that even Tarantino has abandoned. Bilingual action could draw a diverse crowd at fests and on small screens.

With:
Pedro - Louie Olivos Jr. Shawna - Robin Simmons Don Epifanio - Victor Martinez Paul - Joe Keyes Danny - Alejandro Patino Nelson - Pedro Pano (English, Spanish dialogue)

Just when it seemed the Tarantino effect — from “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” days — had disappeared, along comes “Robbing Peter,” tyro helmer Mario F. de la Vega’s full-on salute to irony, crime comedy, multi-gun standoffs, deadpan dialogue and loop-the-loop story structure. Some will read pic, about a first-time gun-for-hire in a load of trouble, as mere imitation of a style that even Tarantino has largely abandoned, while others will take it as an inspired reconsideration. There’s no mistaking, though, that the comedy’s aim is mighty wobbly. Bilingual action could draw a diverse crowd at fests and, with some technical upgrading, on small screens.

Goofy intentions are announced full blast at the start of pic’s three sections titled “Desesperacion.” A small-time Mexican drug lord Don Epifanio (Victor Martinez) hires an unemployed mechanic named Pedro (Louie Olivos Jr.) as a gunman to accompany Paul (Joe Keyes), a gringo pilot, on a drug deal in the States.

Things go wrong fast when Pedro doesn’t see Paul at the drop-off point in Arizona and searches out Paul’s portly g.f. Shawna (Robin Simmons) to determine Paul’s whereabouts. Shawna, however, wants to use Pedro for her own ends, which include driving to Victorville. Drawn as a cartoon of the overfed, ignorant and racist American, Shawna is a forced caricature, like much of the comedy.

In second section, “Furia,” a sudden turn throws off the viewer’s bearings for several minutes. It soon becomes clear that the tale has wound back to the chronological beginning, when Shawna picks Paul up at his release from prison. He wastes no time venturing south-of-the-border to demand backpay from Don Epifanio, who turns things around by getting Paul to do the job with Pedro.

A surer, more sustained deadpan tone runs through most of “Ignorancia,” the final section. Nelson (Pedro Pano), a car detailer, is awakened by his brother and crook Danny (Alejandro Patino). The Tarantino influence is set aside for something that walks and talks like Aki Kaurismaki, and Pano and Patino have the most fun in this cast by going for dry vocal deliveries, pauses and a sense of the absurd.

Nelson hasn’t the faintest idea what Danny is getting him into, and, by the time the pair intersect in time and space with the previous characters, the only certainties are that there will be some gun shots, a joke or two, and Pedro will get away with his life.

Olivos quietly amuses while stumbling through his curlicue adventures. Thesps appear directed at odd and conflicting ranges of comedy, betraying the fact that production was stretched over considerable time. Quality control problems extend to poor video lensing, rendered nauseatingly pink in video projection screening at Los Angeles fest. Lisa Y. Garibay handled the hip music selections.

Robbing Peter

U.S.-Mexico

Production: A Prickly Pear Prods. presentation. Produced by T. Todd Flinchum, Lisa Y. Garibay, Mario F. de la Vega. Executive producers, Patricia L. Pacey, Mary Anna Cusick, Jim Cusick, Pedro Pano, Patsy Jaynes. Co-executive producers, Pete Woods, Eric Myers, Robert McDaniel, Lynnette St. Jean, Josh Welsh. Directed, written by Mario F. de la Vega.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Jaime Reynoso, Blake Scripps; editor, Gloria Vela; music, Alejandro Escovedo; music supervisor, Lisa Y. Garibay; sound, Dennis Haggerty; sound designer, Michael Kowalski; associate producers, Patrick Roddy, Blake Scripps. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival, June 22, 2004. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Pedro - Louie Olivos Jr. Shawna - Robin Simmons Don Epifanio - Victor Martinez Paul - Joe Keyes Danny - Alejandro Patino Nelson - Pedro Pano (English, Spanish dialogue)

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