Iris Chacón is no longer shaking her culo on national television, but its reverberations are still being felt. In El Cantante, J. Lo tries to wiggle it like La Vedette de America, and in Illegal Tender, a pair of Chacón-inspired jeans is a point of contention between sisters living in the Bronx. Chacón may one day be considered one of the ancient wonders of the Latin world, and Franc. Reyes treats Mille De Leon (Wanda De Jesus) as a woman cut from the same proud, Puerto Rican mold, only homegirl’s weapons are a pair of nine calibers. Twenty-one years after two gun-totting mamis killed her man, Millie and her two sons are shacked up in some upper-crust Connecticut manse, Wilson Jr. (Rick Gonzalez) rocking his car’s sweet-ass audio system as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He doesn’t, but an intensely-shot trip to the supermarket unearths demons, forcing Millie to take Wilson into their basement and spill all—about what his father used to do for a living and how she turned his dead papo’s illegal tender into legitimate tender (hello Microsoft stocks!). A problematic but compelling exaltation of violence, privilege, and ethnic pride, Illegal Tender is incessantly but hotly scored, suggesting something of a Sirk melodrama for our Reggaeton times. Its B-ness is crude but voluptuous, with sparring tribes digging their feet in the sand in two set pieces involving the same soccer ball, knowledge being passed down like a torch, and the bonds between parents and their children protected like sacred things. Despite what Millie says, it’s not all about the benjamins, but Wilson needs to thug out first to understand that, and not without watching his mother killing two goons commanded to assassinate her by a mysterious man from her past, now holed up in San Juan. A sterling example that you can take the girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl, Mama puts up walls throughout the film, and Illegal Tender is most interesting as a portrait of a young man understanding which ones he must break down and which ones he must uphold. That’s love, people.
- Universal Pictures
- 108 min
- Franc. Reyes
- Franc. Reyes
- Rick Gonzalez, Wanda De Jesus, Dania Ramirez, Jessica Pimentel, Manny Perez, Preston Holmes, Antonio Ortiz, Tego Calderon
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