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By Merle Bertrand | May 3, 1999

Eric Roberts turns in a career performance as drunken gringo Walter Pool in Jack Perez’ wicked and wickedly funny “La Cucaracha.” Pool’s fled to Mexico as much to escape from himself and his office drone job in New York City as to pursue his nonexistent novelist career. There, he stumbles into Louis Grace (writer James McManus) at his favorite watering hole. Egged on by the overly neighborly stranger, Pool foolishly agrees to be a hit man for cash; $100,000 if he’ll rub out the man who supposedly raped and killed the teenage son of local bigshot Jose Garras (Joaquim de Almeida.)
His mission immediately misfiring, Pool instead discovers he’s Garras’ doomed expendable pawn. Shot in the back and left for dead, Pool is fortunately also a survivor, if a pathetic one. Now paralyzed from the waist down, he sets off on a quest both for revenge against his would-be assassins and for the possibly unattainable love of an impossibly lovely seniorita.
As good as McManus’ writing is in this film – and it’s very good, if occasionally overwritten – Roberts IS this movie. He displays a remarkable sense of comic timing and does a frightening job of making being a loser seem damn funny. His tear-drenched diatribe against life is an amazing juxtaposition of a man overcome with angst saying pathetic, yet hysterically funny things.
“La Cucaracha” won last year’s Austin Film Festival and for good reason. Just the infamous Cockroach Scene is worth the price of admission alone.

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