“Isræl in Exile” is nominally the story of a Mexican boxer who has run from a painful past and settled, “in exile,” in Chicago. The film repeatedly hits strong emotional chords, but undercuts the effect with an overabundance of flashbacks and dreamy interludes that serve only to confuse the very issues the film seeks to explore.
Isræl Mendoza (played by Edwardo Von), haunted by the spirit of his saintly mother (Lynne Dumond), lives out his days in a small apartment, emotionally and physically scarred by an act of long-ago heroism in which he saved a small boy from a fire. Isræl, a man of few – make that no – words, sits stewing in his own despair until an opportunity for redemption knocks at his door. A cocky young champion known only as The Kid (Tony Ramirez) needs Isræl to fill in as an opponent for an upcoming fight. Isræl gladly accepts the offer and seems to have been given a new lease on life, but his mother, along with visions of a foxy Non-Virginal Virgin of Guadalupe (don’t ask) embodies by Bettina Rousos just won’t leave him alone.
There’s a sense that maybe Isræl’s mother is pulling the strings from the great beyond – his scars may or may not heal, he may or may not win the big fight – but it’s awfully hard to tell. “Isræl in Exile” looks pretty thanks to DP David Russell, its heart is in the right place. The storytelling, however, is all over the ring, lurching from elegance to pretension to outright absurdity, sometimes all at once. The film simply doesn’t flow. It manages to land a few punches here and there, but in the end it just feels punch-drunk.