Illegal Tender

Everything has its place. That’s why I love the movies. The offerings run the gamut from cinematic masterpieces like The Godfather to stoner flicks like Half Baked. And it’s all good. Illegal Tender will not go down as one of the greats, and that’s fine. Most movies don’t fall into that category anyway. What I will say about Illegal Tender is that it is a supremely entertaining crime drama, a tale of a young man who must confront the ghosts of his parents’ past.

Rick Gonzalez (Biker Boyz) plays Wilson Deleon Jr., a young man whose life is pretty carefree until situations cause him to question the things and people around him, namely his mother Millie (Wanda De Jesus of Blood Work) and the reasons why they have to move to a new town every few years. Reluctantly, she tells him bits and pieces about the father he never knew, outlining why they must flee their quiet home in suburban Connecticut. What Wilson doesn’t know is that his father pissed off the wrong person, and it cost him his life 21 years prior. Now, this person and his goons won’t rest until Wilson’s mother is dead. And so it begins, a shoot ‘em up ‘hood tale that is sure to entertain, if nothing else. The cast is entirely Latino, and I’ve heard that some in the community are rejecting the portrayal of Latinos as hot-tempered and violent. I’m not one to deny people their right to be offended, but I don’t think the movie casts Latinos in a negative light at all. It’s just a movie. Some characters were good, some were bad – it’s that simple. It’s a “hood” movie, so yes there are going to be some undesirable elements of the story, but in no way do I feel that is an indictment of Latin culture. If anything, the movie is about how a mother will stop at nothing to protect her children, and how sometimes we don’t realize our inner strength until we’re confronted with hard choices.

Illegal Tender was produced by director John Singleton (Four Brothers), and I’m not sure how large of a factor he played in making the movie, but if he’s responsible for casting Gonzalez in his first starring role, he made a wise choice. His portrayal of Wilson as reluctant boy-becoming-man was authentic. Likewise, De Jesus’ performance as his tough-as-nails mother was perfect. She was a bad-ass, like a cross between the Bride from Kill Bill and June Cleaver. One minute she’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Wilson’s little brother, the next minute she’s got a burner in each hand, ready to peel back some caps. Although this movie won’t be winning any awards for its screenplay, there was never a dull moment and it’s worth checking out.

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