In which Daddy Yankee, wayward reggaeton dynamo, redeems the same free musi-criminology film coupon offered to stars like Eminem—albeit with far more emphasis on the commodification of illegal narcotics via gang warfare, a la Jimmy Cliff (should anyone bother to trace the etiology of this genre). Need we even discuss the expected trafficking of clichés? The hero worship of Yankee’s protagonist Edgar, known under the subtle alias “Dinero” on the streets, as he prepares for his final score? Or the pill-popping, barely-dressed, “victimize me!” sister (Angélica Alcaide)? How about the goateed right-hand man (Maestro) whose time in jail has warped him, and him alone, into a worthy antagonist for Dinero? There’s even the obligatory powerhouse rap scene where Edgar overcomes initially crippling stage fright to deliver the make-or-break performance of his career.
Well, perhaps it’s better to focus on the more curious errors, such as the in media res structuring of the plot around a moment of senseless (nearly incoherent) violence that in the end holds no influence; or the painfully Afterschool Special-like domestic dialogue (Edgar’s mom is aware of his drug cartel but scolds him as though he’s merely run up the long distance bill again). Or we can dismiss these as a given and slowly admit to ourselves the moments of shockingly ironic social depth: For example, a scene in which two policemen drive through the crime-riddled ghetto and remark that all the slum kids have larger televisions than they do thanks to the industry of aggressive dealing. The moral dilemma pumping the blood of Talento de Barrio has Edgar choosing not between right and wrong but between two types of hedonistic avarice: drugs and music. Forget the rages—unlike the aforementioned 8 Mile, this is a riches-to-riches story.
In this refreshingly cynical world, reggaeton is preferable to handguns only because you can’t get arrested for busting rhymes. We take this at face value mostly because the director, José Iván Santiago, forces Daddy Yankee to earn rather than assume his gangsta pulchritude. His bad-boy swagger never feels contrived, and the beauty mark above his right cheek viciously punctuates every sneer and smile. Is it such a surprise that a rapper should emote with his mouth so effortlessly? Then again, this film has smashed several Puerto Rican film records, so the assessments of a gringo critic are likely to be just as irrelevant as the argument that the depictions of crime and club life glamorize gang violence and materialism. Lest we forget: Puerto Rico is America.