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Freddy Rodríguez (#110 of 2)

White Elephant Blogathon: The Pest

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White Elephant Blogathon: <em>The Pest</em>
White Elephant Blogathon: <em>The Pest</em>

[This is a submission to the White Elephant Blogathon called by Silly Hats Only.]

On the stage, John Leguizamo was something of a dynamo caricaturist. His one-man plays, like Freak and Sexaholix, were an explosive series of tirades centered around Leguizamo’s mixed ethnicity, effectively turning his insecurity into schtick by sheer force of will alone. On stage, Leguizamo looked like a caged cartoon animal pacing back and forth while tirelessly spitting over-caffeinated rants at his audience. No target was spared, especially not when it came to his parents. He was not Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy, but he was loud and vigorous in his lampooning and the audiences and critics ate it up.

The producers of Paul Miller’s 1997 clunker, The Pest, and perhaps Miller himself, who had previously directed 15 episodes of In Living Color and 10 episodes of something called House of Buggin’, no doubt saw this angry young man and thought that all they needed to do was put a camera in front of him, wind him up and set him loose to get fans of “ethnic humor” to roll up. He acted like a living looney tune on film so why not on try doing the same thing for film?

On Safari: Christian Bale in Harsh Times

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On Safari: Christian Bale in <em>Harsh Times</em>
On Safari: Christian Bale in <em>Harsh Times</em>

David Ayer’s debut feature Harsh Times, starring Christian Bale as an alienated war vet who drags his best friend (Freddy Rodríguez) on a self-immolating rampage through L.A., is so bad it’s hypnotic—overlong, overcooked and trading in a B-movie version of sociological awareness that plays like clueless racist spelunking. The structurally similar Training Day, which Ayer wrote and coproduced, was flashy, shallow and mostly full of shit—like a season of The Shield compressed into two hours—but at least it had a visually competent director, strong backup work from Ethan Hawke (in the “Oh my God, I can’t believe he just did that” sidekick role, played here by Rodriguez), and a hammy but exciting lead performance from Denzel Washington. Harsh Times, in contrast, isn’t so much directed as covered like an NFL game (calling the camerawork and compositions “functional” gives them too much credit). Ayer’s script, which follows Jim his outwardly more respectable best buddy Mike on a booze-and-pot fueled flight from adult male obligation, plays like a term paper about arrested adolescence translated into Hollywood psychodrama, fortified with out-of-nowhere explosions of machismo-fueled street mayhem, then sprinkled with ostentatiously faux-natural ghetto slang. Much of the latter is awkwardly extruded from the mouth of Bale, an intense and versatile young star who, until now, seemed incapable of giving a dull or obvious performance. Playing a white underclass hardcase who’s internalized Chicano street posturing (and learned to speak decent Spanish), he instead suggests a member of Max Fischer’s repertory company stumbling through a high school stage version of Bound by Honor—pronouncing “bullshit” as “boo-shit,” and crowing keepers like “I got a bone, Gracie!” and “Roll dat shit up!”