×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Baja’

Four teens head south of the border for some very mild misadventures in Tony Vidal's heavily chaperoned teen comedy.

Director:
Tony Vidal
With:
John Thomas, Chris Brochu, Arienne Mandy, Michelle DeShon, Zoe Corraface, Jose Zuniga, Jose Sefami, Jason Spisak, Andres Londono, Natasha Perez, Cynthia Stevenson, Kurt Fuller, Mark Margolis, Randy Nazarian. (English, Spanish dialogue.)
Release Date:
Apr 13, 2018

Rated PG-13  1 hour 46 minutes

Not since Gidget went Hawaiian have youthful hijinks in a mildly exotic setting seemed so old-fogeyish as they do in “Baja.” This tame, tepid road-trip comedy is notably short on laughs — save for a few unintentional ones when it tries to channel serious drama. It’s hard to know just what audience writer-director Tony Vidal was aiming for, beyond perhaps teens of a couple generations ago. Nonetheless, the self-distributed film is opening on 20-odd (mostly AMC) screens this Friday.

Southern California suburbanite Bryan (former “Lizzie McGuire” cast regular Jake Thomas) is too nice for his own good — he gets pushed around too easily by both his parents (Cynthia Stevenson, Kurt Fuller) and his exploitative sporting goods store boss (Randy Nazarian). Party-hearty bestie Todd (Chris Brochu) convinces him to rebel for once, chucking his job and not telling the folks that he’ll be taking a few peers along for the ride when he drives their expensive RV to a vacation rendezvous point during Christmas break at the far Mexican end of the Baja peninsula.

The other passengers are the boys’ erstwhile high school classmates Jessica (Michelle DeShon) and Lisa (Arienne Mandi). While nervous-nelly Bryan just prays to get the vehicle safely back to his unsuspecting parents, everyone else has a different agenda: Without informing the others, Todd invites trouble by smuggling several boxes of cellphones for potentially dangerous big-shot Jorge (Andres London). Film student Jess needs to use the trip to shoot an assigned project that will wow her hostile professor. Lisa wants to track down her estranged father, whose years’-long stream of letters, she has just learned, have been hidden from her by her embittered, hypochondriacal mother. Much is made of Lisa’s resemblance to a Selena-type Latina pop star who died in a plane crash.

Awfully leisurely and padded for a lightweight film that’s not particularly packed with incident, “Baja” leans on lame, touristic cultural stereotypes and an Eisenhower-era prudishness that would work better if the film simply owned up to it. In theory, it’s admirable to make a de facto teen comedy today without the usual raunch and cussin’. But Vidal’s sensibility feels more incongruous than organic. Jessica is written and played as a 20-year-old version of a prissy, nagging spinster, though it’s unclear whether the film realizes she’s a pill. When the boys go to a bordello (where they acquire a fifth lead in Zoe Corraface’s high-minded prostitute Carmen) and duly pair off, Bryan is too squeaky-clean and Todd gets too drunk for physical intimacy to occur.

Deducting sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll from the genre equation puts extra pressure on scripted and directorial ingenuity in a movie that boasts neither. Blandly competent in assembly, “Baja” has only pedestrian comic ideas, and even those aren’t executed well. It’s typical that one running gag has characters chiding Jorge’s flunky Burnout (Jason Spisak doing a sort of Skid Row Jeff Spicoli) for not wearing sunscreen — a bit that would have only worked if the makeup crew had actually bothered to make him look sunburnt. Dialogue does not shrink from cliches like “Take this job and shove it,” “We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore,” and the kind of Spanish vocabulary that you could learn from Taco Bell ads. The only big laughs arrive toward the end, when a series of ridiculous straight-faced revelations and redemptions prove funny for all the wrong reasons.

The principal actors have an unmistakable sheen of professional training and ability. But they aren’t given much to work with, and the harder they try (notably in Thomas’ strenuous mugging), the more obvious that lack of support becomes. “Baja” is too innocuous to be offensive. Still, it gets close with such elements as wide-eyed peasants literally worshipping at the altar of a dead pop star, and a wand-waving desert shaman (Mark Margolis) who speaks in vague, hokey fortune-cookie wisdoms.

More boggling still are a few instances of special effects so tacky that in almost any other context, one would assume they were meant as deliberate camp. Here, however, that seems highly unlikely. The closing credits feature Northern Californian Latino music act Carne Cruda’s hit “I Love You More Than Tacos,” which has become something of a snarky “answer” song to Trump-era Mexiphobia — but after nearly two hours of the cultural tone-deafness of “Baja,” it plays like a frat-house anthem.

Film Review: 'Baja'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, April 8, 2018. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: A Prankster Entertainment in association with Badhouse Studios release of a Prankster Entertainment in association with Badhouse Studios presentation. Producers: Tony Vidal, Greg Wilker, R. Ellis Frazier, Justin Nesbitt.

Crew: Director-writer Tony Vidal. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Jorge Roman. Editor: Robin Lee. Music: Camilo Landau.

With: John Thomas, Chris Brochu, Arienne Mandy, Michelle DeShon, Zoe Corraface, Jose Zuniga, Jose Sefami, Jason Spisak, Andres Londono, Natasha Perez, Cynthia Stevenson, Kurt Fuller, Mark Margolis, Randy Nazarian. (English, Spanish dialogue.)

More Film

  • Franco Zeffirelli Remembered

    Franco Zeffirelli: An Artist and a Paradox

    When popular artists pass on, it can often be a surprise to learn just how old they were. But the news of Franco Zeffirelli’s death, at 96, inspired a major double take. The extravagant Italian maestro of theater, opera and film lived to a vibrant old age. Yet for many of us, the name Zeffirelli [...]

  • Evan Tanner, Professional mixed martial arts

    UFC Fighter Evan Tanner Biopic ‘The Power of 1’ in the Works (EXCLUSIVE)

    Producers Christopher Scheimann and Olcun Tan have partnered with top sports director Bobby Razak on “The Power of 1,” a feature biopic of UFC fighter Evan Tanner. Co-written by Scheimann and Razak, the movie is slated to go into pre-production toward the end of this year, with principal photography planned for early next year. Tanner, [...]

  • The Grove Introduces Drive-In Rooftop Movie

    The Grove Introduces Drive-In Rooftop Movie Theater Level 8

    The Grove is ringing in summer with a new rooftop movie theater. The popular Los Angeles shopping mall, located between Fairfax and La Brea, announced today the launch of their new cinema experience titled Level 8 Drive-in, which will kick off with a screening of “Grease” on June 26 and will run through September. Inspired [...]

  • China, Shanghai Exhibition Centre, Soviet-style Facade

    Shanghai: China Market 'Has Always Been a Turbulent One,' Says Infotainment Chief (EXCLUSIVE)

    Movie sales and distribution company Infotainment China comes to the Shanghai International Film Festival optimistic about Chinese audience trends, but gloomy about current business conditions. “The market is bad and industry players are very pessimistic. I just hope it doesn’t get worse,” said Infotainment CEO Cindy Lin, though she noted that such periods of trouble [...]

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on the Homophobia He Still Sees in Comedy and Hollywood

    On “Billy on the Street,” Billy Eichner has made a name for himself running up and down Manhattan’s sidewalks, ambushing clueless New Yorkers and interrogating them about pop culture. A brash physical comedian, Eichner has no qualms about asking perfect strangers embarrassing questions, hectoring pedestrians about their willingness to have a threesome with Jon Hamm [...]

  • State of Pride Full

    How Hollywood Is (and Isn't) Getting Better at LGBTQ Inclusion

    Brandon Flynn, one of the breakout actors from Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” has spent the last two years fielding questions about his personal life. In 2017, he wrote a passionate post on Instagram, advocating for an Australian vote that allowed for same-sex marriage. Soon enough, news sites such as HuffPost and E! News were reporting [...]

  • Prince Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz al

    Saudi Crown Prince Should Be Investigated Over Khashoggi Killing, U.N. Report Says

    Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, should be investigated in connection with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi because of “credible evidence” that the prince is among those liable for the dissident journalist’s death, a United Nations report said Wednesday. While no “smoking gun” has yet been found that directly incriminates the prince [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content