Fast-Paised review: 'Illegal Tender'

College kid Wilson (Rick Gonzalez of "Coach Carter," "Old School") grows up fast when he discovers his deceased father was a drug dealer. Worse, hitmen are still after him, his mother and his younger brother, so Wilson heads down to Puerto Rico to settle a more than 20-year-old score.

Big question: What makes "Illegal Tender," Franc Reyes' directorial follow-up to 2002's "Empire," any more valuable than the typical violence-begets-violence crime drama?

Skip it: Credit "Illegal Tender" for actually taking time to tell a story, though the lack of momentum sometimes makes the movie feel like a two-hour slow motion sequence. Anytime the violence breaks out--which is, thankfully, not often--Reyes converts everything into a summer-popcorn-movie action sequence, with a suspicious lack of cops, neighbors and random passerby to prove that the gunfire is actually taking place against the comfortable backdrop of suburbia.

Catch it: If you want proof that killers come in all shapes, sizes and wardrobes. A gun in a hand is a gun in a hand, even if that hand is attached to a body with booming cleavage and leopard-print pants.

Bottom line: With a tremble in his voice that gives way to steadfast determination, Gonzalez's first starring role reveals a young actor who understands that a character is actually supposed to change and grow in the face of adversity. But he can't carry all of "Illegal Tender" on his back when his mother (Wanda De Jesus, awful) says things like "download that into your brain" and the movie has little new to say about a past that won't leave the present alone.

Bonus: Don't worry if it's a little awkward when you run into someone from your past at the grocery store. Just be glad that you're not Wilson's mom and it means that you're being hunted and need to leave town!

Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.


'Illegal Tender'

Written and directed by Franc. Reyes; photographed by Frank Byers; edited by Tony Ciccone; production design by Keith Brian Burns; produced by John Singleton. A Universal release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:35. In English and Spanish. MPAA rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality).

Wilson DeLeon Jr. - Rick Gonzalez

Millie DeLeon - Wanda De Jesus

Javier Cordero - Gary Perez

Randy - Antonio Ortiz

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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