Some movies are used for the sole purpose of entertaining the masses, then there are those made to spread important messages they feel everyone should know. Cellmates is more of the latter, blending comedy with its heavy and flawed anti-racism message. But this combination makes the Tom Sizemore starring movie a little hard to swallow.
Check out our review below…
- Director: Jesse Baget
- Writers: Jesse Baget, Stefania Moscato
- Cast: Tom Sizemore, Héctor Jiménez, Olga Segura, Stacy Keach, Kevin P. Farley
- Music: Jim Lang
- Cinematography: Bill Otto
Set in the dusty desert landscape of 1970s Texas, the story centers on Leroy Lowe (Tom Sizemore), a KKK member who climbs the ranks and becomes the Grand Dragon. When the government cracks down on his group, Leroy finds himself in jail at the Low Lee Tuna Prison Work Farm harvesting potatoes day in and day out. Leroy’s beliefs and sanity are put to the test when the warden (Stacy Keach) puts him in a cell with Mexican farm worker Emilio (Héctor Jiménez). After spending time with the outspoken man, Leroy finally begins to understand that people can truly get along no matter the color of their skin.
- Cinematography: When it comes to independent features, there isn’t too much effort put into slapping one together. It’s because when you watch it, you know it’s a cheap movie and it shows. That shouldn’t always be the case, but Bill Otto did a slightly better job making this look like an actual professional feature-length film. Bravo for that. But we can do without the fish-eye lens. That died off in nineties hip-hop music videos for a reason.
- The Performances: Another major flaw that tends to happen in independent features is an actor’s lack of concern about his or her’s performance. They must have it implanted in their minds that since only a small number of people will be watching, they can act however they want. Thankfully, Sizemore, Jiménez, Keach and company are all giving at least sixty percent effort in their line delivery or actions.
- Direction: This isn’t the first time director Jesse Baget has handled an independent film, so why does it look like he’s too scared to move the camera? The shots are so static and focus so much on close-ups. It feels like he has a future shooting soap operas more than anything else. His style is solid and works but it’s a little too safe. Independent films should have a certain amount of experimentation poking out in them. But if he wants to shoot it more like a made-for-TV movie then so be it.
- The Central Story Message: Easily one of the most offensive parts about Cellmates is how they handle the central message of racism. At the same time it manages to put together one of the most stereotypical Mexicans on screen and expect us to accept him without any complaint. Even his physical appearance makes him look like he crawled out of a racist cartoon made in the fifties between the crooked teeth and completely unkempt hair. We’re supposed to expect that our protagonist also goes through his character change, thanks not only to the aide of his cellmate, but his interest in the Mexican maid Madalena (Olga Segura). Firstly, he never appears to actually like his cellmate but just tolerates him in order to find out more information on Madalena. Secondly, it’s pretty silly to realize that the only reason he’s decided against being racist is because it’s the only way to hook up with Madalena. He states otherwise but it feels more like the former has a lot to do with his transition. Then you have Emilio, a man who wants to fight for farm workers rights while in jail. He’s proud of who he is but in the end, succumbs to a blond wig because he’s desperate to be more American. It’s a surprise the end of this movie doesn’t have a patriotic flag waving about saying “America is the best at everything, accept it and assimilate or go away.”
- Fish-Eye Lens: Again, need we say more?
Cellmates is a lackluster attempt to teach the audience a lesson about racism, while promoting it at the same time. Despite its decent camerawork, it doesn’t really impress anyone. If you want to watch it as an example of what not to do when confronting a social issue in a movie, this is it.
The Rating: 2/10
Cellmates is out in New York and Los Angeles June 1st.