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Review: Piñero

However narratively slipshod, Piñero has passion to burn.

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Piñero
Photo: Miramax Films

Playwright Miguel Piñero was Nuyorican soul, the embodiment of displaced Latinos looking to find their voices amid unflinching poverty and the draw of drugs. In writer-director Leon Ichaso’s Piñero, prison time gives way to the free-floating cultural groove that helped pave the way for the Nuyorican Poets Café. Gabriel Garcia Marquez can afford his magical realism because he owns his Colombia. Piñero’s poetry, on the other hand, is that of the streets, the refugee Latino looking to own their elusive past.

Piñero’s legacy is everywhere: in rap, hip-hop, and the Lower East Side that still wears his soul-tapping aplomb. And in Ichaso’s hands, Piñero’s past is retro-reductive, with a young Miguel taking his daddy-abandonment issues to the streets, gay sex implied Midnight Cowboy-style. The film’s events are also difficult to place on a narrative timeline, no thanks to Ichaso’s fractured editing and fetish for various film stocks.

Still, Piñero feels like the cinematic embodiment of the very Nuyorican pulse it heralds. Ichaso free-floats back and forth through the writer’s 40 years, from the rooftop dance the young poet shares with his proud Mami (Rita Moreno) to the hell of the AIDS crisis. And like Nuyorican poetry, Piñero teems with pretenses: the Empire State Building suggests a syringe, while the poet’s racial qualms are those of self-made martyrs. But the vertiginous grit and spirit of Ichaso’s New York City is such that it may make Abel Ferrara squirm.

Piñero is as lost within his Lower East Side hell as he is in Ichaso’s brokedown vision of Puerto Rico, the elusive homeland where the poet must stringently defend the authenticity of his passion before critical elders. And throughout, Benjamin Bratt hauntingly embodies Piñero’s boriqua spirit. He’s unrecognizable, in fact, lost beneath words that cling to hope and tremble with false bravado. The film’s rhythm is so deftly crude that it unwinds like an underground ‘80s cinematic relic. However narratively slipshod, Piñero has passion to burn.

Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Giancarlo Esposito, Talisa Soto, Nelson Vasquez, Michael Irby, Michael Wright, Rita Moreno, Jaime Sánchez, Rome Neal, Mandy Patinkin, Al D. Rodriquez, Tara Wilson Director: Leon Ichaso Screenwriter: Leon Ichaso Distributor: Miramax Films Running Time: 94 min Rating: R Year: 2001 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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