CELLMATES(WHITE KNIGHT)(director/writer: Jesse Baget; screenwriter: Stefania Moscato; cinematographer: Bill Otto; editors: Andrea Bottigliero/Jesse Baget; music: Jim Lang; cast: Tom Sizemore (Leroy Lowe), Stacy Keach (Warden Merville), Héctor Jiménez (Emilio Ortiz), Kevin Farley(Bubba), Olga Segura (Madalena), Bob Rickard (Judge); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jose Daniel Bort/Andrea Bottigliero/Jesse Baget/Stefania Moscato; Viva Pictures; 2011)
“The modest offbeat comedy gently spoofs racism.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The modest offbeat comedy gently spoofs racism. The indie is directed by Jesse Baget(“Breathless”/”El Mascarado Massacre”), an Arizona raised filmmaker. It’s a feel-good satire about a peaceful way of overcoming bigotry and a non-violent way of fighting against political corruption. The sensitive director gets some nervous laughs over the absurd one-joke story line of a KKK inmate and his dark-skinned Mexican field laborer cellmate trying to make a go of it in their claustrophobic space. Baget co-writes Cellmates with Stefania Moscato, and they suggest it’s plausible to believe that people can change for the better–even a member of the KKK. The slight story ran out of edgy comedy material the moment the bigot was transformed into a better human being and for the rest of the film it runs on silly comedy bits relying on the main performer’s comedic timing to get some laughs over references to dated figures of note such as George Wallace. Nevertheless its heartwarming message that there’s hope for mankind if people can accept those who are different from them makes the film appealing to an open-minded audience. It should also be appealing to the fans of Tom Sizemore, who might be curious to see how he uses his acting chops to provide life support to his one-note caricature role.
In 1976, the grand dragon of the Texas KKK, Leroy Lowe (Tom Sizemore), is sentenced to three years prison time for a series of petty fraud crimes that include tax evasion and serves time in an East Texas state prison. Leroy is under the supervision of the potato-loving two-faced redneck profiteering Warden Merville (Stacy Keach). The bigot’s cellmate is benign KKK soul-mate Bubba (Kevin Farley), who gags on a potato when he can’t digest the rumor going around in the newspapers that Leroy’s mom is half-Jewish and after nearly choking to death is transferred to the psychiatric ward as damaged goods. The warden assigns Emilio Ortiz (Héctor Jiménez) as Leroy’s new cellmate. The good-hearted Mexican worker is serving a questionable three months sentence for organizing a strike for a pay raise, and is eager to make a relationship with his gruff cellmate. When the widowed Leroy receives a note in Spanish from the warden’s pretty Mexican cleaning lady Madalena (Olga Segura), the unruly-haired, cheerful and gabby Emilio acts as translator and writes responses for Leroy. Unexpectedly the cellmates become buddies when they find they have something in common–they both are against how the Man is running a corrupt prison system that exploits the underprivileged whether black or white.
Rather than give us the reality of prison life, the film keeps things looking cartoonish as it isolates Leroy relating in his cell with Emilio and Leroy’s weekly bull sessions with the haughty warden in his office. The corruption part is pointed out by showing the phony pontificating warden using the prisoners as indentured servants to work cheaply on their prison wages to cultivate potatoes.
Though the screenplay is lackluster, one must give Mr. Baget credit for getting some unexpected lighthearted moments out of his socially unacceptable KKK protagonist and then switching gears by going semi-serious by showing us a humanistic way for the hater to overcome his deep-seated bigotry.
It’s an easy-going sassy film that should appeal to the underground crowd, as it comes with a cult film DNA.
REVIEWED ON 5/5/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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