By James Teitelbaum | March 28, 2009

To the tune of Don DiLego’s ambient and yet smouldering guitar, and some atmospheric establishing shots of California farmland, we meet Jesse Torres (Roger Guiterrez). Jesse is a Mexican rockabilly cat who has spent his whole life working on a cattle ranch. He is also interested in photography. His mother and father both worked the land until their deaths (as the film opens, dad has just passed).

After scattering his father’s ashes, Jesse decides to finally leave farm country for life in the big city of Los Angeles. The Caucasian farmer who employs Jesse is a decent sort of guy who appreciates the Torres family’s hard work over the decades, so he gives Jesse a new truck. Jesse grew up with the farm owner’s son, Tommy (Brian Eric Johnson, also the writer of the film) , who moved to L.A. a decade earlier.

He helps Jesse find a place to live, but otherwise he is not quite the good guy that Jesse remembers. Tommy is involved in some seedy dealings around the rather rough neighborhood they live in. His job as a security guard contrasts his life as an unstable and violent street thug with a drug problem. Also living in their building is a black girl named Lil’ Bit (Christina Woods). Although race is never mentioned, tension develops between the Caucasian, black, and Hispanic trio as Jesse’s country values prove incompatible with big city living, and as Tommy’s problems worsen.

Things get ugly.

Guiterrez is likable and has a fair amount of presence on camera. However, I had trouble buying his erudite manner of speaking, his good manners, and the cultivated anachronism of his rockabilly look as being the product of an immigrant family raised in a rotting shack on a cattle farm. Roger Guiterrez (not his character) seems to have been raised in a cosmopolitan area. Without a hint of an accent, and carrying himself like a cultured city-boy, Jesse, a supposed farm worker-cum-grocery clerk, seems to have an endless supply of cash in his wallet (chained to his belt, natch), not to mention a fancy-pants camera (which might have also benefited from being chained down – it disappears during the story). One doesn’t get tattoos of Buddy Holly and the glasses to match while slaughtering cows. It is also puzzling, from a story perspective, what he sees in the bitter and standoffish Lil’ Bit, when there are hipster hotties (such as Maleri Mitchell) staring at him whenever he goes into his local bar.

So the point is, Guiterrez seems like a good actor with enough charisma to carry the picture, but he might have been directed poorly. His previous film was “Outlaw Force” from 1988; let us hope he doesn’t wait another twenty years before appearing in his third film. I’d be curious to see what he does next.

Other than the notable snag in Jesse’s characterization, director Richard Kaponas has done a good job in his debut. The technical team are solid; the camera, light, and sound people all seem to be in place and doing their work well. In this tight film, there is little fat that could have been trimmed from the running time.

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