The immigrant smuggler at the center of “Coyote” is hardly a cartel-hardened pollero. Rather, Brian (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) is a white, middle-class Angeleno pushing 30 and still living at home. When he loses his job teaching a food-handling course for being too explicit in his descriptions about how bacteria spread, his metalhead Uncle Jimmy (Dennis W. Hall) gives him a gig in construction — as well as dubious life advice.
In his new dirty job, Brian’s germaphobia is swiftly replaced by a new obsession with his Latino co-workers, who, peddling in stereotypes, include a benevolent gardener working for a better life for his sons and a gangster electrician with a stash of loot left over from the riots. Brian grows especially close to Manuel (Carlos Pratts), who just recently crossed the border illegally, leaving his mother and sister behind. Brian hatches an ill-advised plan to rescue his new friend’s family from the coyote keeping them hostage.
Writer-director Joe Eddy’s debut is sincere but relies on obvious tropes: Look how shallow Brian’s family is! Look how loving Manuel’s is! At the height of his frustration with his health-nut mom (Jan Broberg) and salon-tanned sister (Augie Duke), Brian pours hot sauce on his dinner. Amid familiar jokes that fall flat, unaided by awkward pacing, Brian absorbs these life lessons with the earnestness of a Muppet.
“Coyote.” MPAA rating: Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD on Jan. 1.