Born In East L.A.

Cheech Marin is such a charmless sleaze in the movies.  When his characters are out in public and they spot beautiful women, they always stalk and harass them, without fail.  It’s rather remarkable how often he gets away with it, too.

In Born In East L.A., he plays Rudy, a mechanic who also sings and plays guitar.  On his way to work, he spots a French woman in a dress.  He starts driving around looking for her after she briefly disappears.  At one point, after he spots her again, he starts shouting creepy things at her while the car is in motion but thankfully she can’t hear him.  It turns out this is all completely unnecessary when she’s coming to his shop anyway to pick up her car.  There’s a gross moment where he slides out from underneath it and looks up her dress.  How he doesn’t get slapped is beyond me.

Before he even leaves the house this day, a relative he lives with asks for a favour.  He needs to pick up his cousin (Paul Rodriguez) at a toy factory.  But shortly after he arrives with no cousin in sight, the feds swoop in and round up the many undocumented Mexicans putting together stuffed animals here, much to the annoyance of the owner who’s been through this all before.

When one of the officers (Jan Michael Vincent) discovers Rudy hiding in one of those animals, he asks him very simple questions.  But because he’s a moron who doesn’t even know the name of the U.S. President (at the time, it was Ronald Reagan, not John Wayne) and doesn’t have any ID on him, he gets deported along with everybody else.

Because of rampant bureaucratic stupidity and the fact that he has the same name as an actual undocumented person with a criminal history (the other guy is 57, though), he’s stranded in Tijuana.  His unlikely saviour ends up being Daniel Stern (before he was a Wet Bandit).  He runs a strip joint and needs a doorman to bring in customers.  He pays peanuts but Rudy is desperate.  (He ends up giving him other menial jobs like selling fake IDs & visas and fresh fruit.)

During a break at the pool hall, he meets a beautiful server from El Salvador (she’s stranded, too, and works two other jobs to fund her eventual escape) who at first wants nothing to do with him.  But after watching him teach some “Chinese Indians” (including future Bruce Lee Jason Scott Lee from Map Of The Human Heart) several lessons on how to harass women in English (another Stern job) and after she secretly witnesses him giving away his entire cart of oranges to a desperate mother and her kids out on the street, her heart melts.  It’s not convincing.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, who arrives just after the raid, gets a lift to Rudy’s family home from the disgruntled toy factory owner and is eventually let in by a kindly neighbour who gives him stolen lottery tickets for some reason.  (We never do know if he won anything.  They’re never mentioned again.)  Because he doesn’t speak a single word of English and is also a total moron, Rodriguez basically hangs out in the abandoned house (Rudy’s relatives are in Fresno for a week) drinking beer, watching the Playboy Channel and freaking out whenever the phone rings.  Why?  Because it’s blocked by a bizarre Jesus crucifixion picture that appears to be blinking.  Every time someone leaves a message, it never occurs to him to move the goddamn picture out of the way and pick up the phone.  Not that that would help Rudy, anyway, since he can barely speak Spanish himself.

It might only run about 85 minutes but Born In East L.A. is a chore to sit through.  There are no laughs. There isn’t much of a story.  And we really don’t care what happens.

Continuing an unwelcome homophobic tradition from earlier Cheech & Chong disasters, there’s a scene where Rudy is locked up in a Mexican jail with two gay men who proceed to harass him and threaten him with rape.  Later when they’re all free, Rudy accidentally bumps into them while en route to a date and they pick up where they left off.  This time, they stick to punching.

The movie briefly comes to life, thankfully, near the end when Rudy hooks up with a local mariachi band and starts doing catchy, mostly straightforward covers of famous rock songs like Purple Haze and Summertime Blues for tips.  (Marin is a good singer & credible rhythm guitar player.)  The title song, an otherwise unfunny goof on Springsteen’s Born In The USA done in a slightly lower key, strangely works in its more horn-friendly arrangement.  They should’ve hired Weird Al Yankovic to pen the lyrics, though.

Some of the film’s musical score is effective and the use of Neil Diamond’s America (a guilty pleasure) from The Jazz Singer in the final act feels appropriate.  But everything else about Born In East L.A. is dumb, annoying and humourless.  Originally released in the late summer of 1987, it’s not exactly remembered with much fondness.  Seen today in the context of a much more hostile xenophobic environment where the Mexican people are increasingly dehumanized by millions of paranoid, misguided, resentful white Americans and opportunistic politicians alike, its utter lack of social commentary on the cruelty of immigration laws and the hypocrisy of American business is even less excuseable now than it was during Reagan’s second term.  It has no ambition whatsoever.

That’s not a surprise.  Marin isn’t much of a screenwriter and even less qualified to direct.  The pacing here is ungodly slow, all the “jokes” exceedingly weak and banal.  Beyond the overt, almost cartoonish racism of the border patrol & INS agents (the scourge of nativism undoubtedly flows through their real-life counterparts), the story has zero credibility.  It’s so paper-thin you could slit your wrists with it.

If only Rudy hadn’t left his wallet at home.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 19, 2014
8:58 p.m.

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Published in: on March 19, 2016 at 8:58 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] Get Hard, the Black Christmas remake, Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn, Damien: Omen II, Born In East LA, The Wedding Ringer, Identity Thief, The Heat, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, No One […]

  2. […] but as usual, I tortured myself with dreck this year.  In March, I slammed The Wedding Ringer, Born In East LA and Identity Thief.  Then, in April, I hammered the little-seen WWE production Bending The Rules […]


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