Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talento de Barrio

Yesterday, I went to see Daddy Yankee's Talento de Barrio—the movie that he stars in and for which he served as executive producer. It was a huge hit in Puerto Rico and opened in New York and Los Angeles last Friday. (According to EFE news agency, the film generated $1.4 million and was seen by 280,000 people in Puerto Rico during it's first month.)

I expected to hate it. But I didn't.

O.k., so I found the music uninspiring. The script mostly sucked (specially the dique romantic parts). The acting was often weak (though Daddy Yankee was much better than I thought he would be).

But still, I actually enjoyed the movie. Unlike Illegal Tender and Feel the Noise, where almost everything felt extremely artificial and over the top, there was something about the images in Talento de Barrio (cliched as they often were) and speech patterns (stunted by the weak script as they were) that actually FELT like Puerto Rico. Those shots of the "Valle Verde" housing project in the middle of green mountains, the tender conversations between the main character Edgar Dinero and his hardworking mom, maybe even the simple fact that the movie was all delivered in Puerto Rican Spanish (minus a few affectations, like Soribel's misplaced, ultra-corrected "s")... Little details like that conspired so that I wouldn't hate the movie.

Granted, I won't argue with the reviewers that trashed it.

The Village Voice's Tim Grierson, for example, said:

"When conservative watchdogs snarl about the ugliness of gangsta rap, Talento de Barrio might be what they picture in their head—a vile, stupid, violent-crime drama that would be laughable if its content wasn't so toxic. Drug boss Edgar Dinero (reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, who mostly glowers) prowls the gritty streets of Puerto Rico and dreams of becoming a rapper. Directed limply by José Iván Santiago, Talento de Barrio lustfully idolizes its shallow, gun-toting bad boy, as can be witnessed by the disinterested lip service given to crime's downside and a particularly risible moment when Edgar carts out the old "the whole world's corrupt" justification during a brief monologue. Reggaeton's success was due to its Latin-influenced reinvention of commercial hip-hop's sonic palette, but Yankee's vanity project resorts to every rap-music-video cliché to tell the umpteenth story of a young tough who has to choose between burgeoning stardom and the "reality" of the 'hood. Talento de Barrio sells Yankee's fans a fantasy of hot babes, cool cars, and an endless supply of fresh threads—just so long as you don't get killed first, of course. Which would be a total drag, because then who's gonna buy his records?"

Meanwhile, the New York Times' Neil Genzlinger said:

"Some rappers have shown themselves to be adept actors as well, and now Daddy Yankee, a big star in the related musical genre of reggaetón, takes his big-screen shot in “Talento de Barrio.” Unfortunately, any acting skills he might have — and it looks as if he might well have some — are powerless against the thudding cliché of a script he is saddled with. [...] He has a loving mother, he is protective of his sister, and he has aspirations that go beyond gangsterism: to be a reggaetón star, of course. But his criminal life has a gravitational pull that keeps sucking him back in. The violence-laden story, such as it is, is ineptly stitched together; it’s unclear who is shooting at whom and why; and the dialogue seldom advances beyond “Yo, dog” and “Whassup?” The soundtrack is the only draw here."

I agree with the reviewers. The movie is not a good one. But I have to admit it gave me a little taste of images and sounds that I've been hungry for. Meager (and inept) as that little taste was... I ate it up.

1 comment:

Elis Fierro said...

I missed coming to this blog. I saw the movie and expected the settings to be a whole lot different. And the opening, hijo de la... I'm still wondering if that IS really an interpretation of drug wars in PR. The whole thing reminded me of my Mexico (except the dialog of course, I couldn't understand anything, not to mention the lingo).
Tim Grierson, jeez, reading that left a bad taste in my mouth. Life sure looks a whole lot different from the top down than from the bottom up. I've met with people like that, and I ju- well let's just say I was happy to get away from them.