Latin Boys Go to Hell

Directed by Ela Troyano. Starring Irwin Ossa, John Bryant Davila, Alexis Artiles, Mike Ruiz, Jennifer Lee Simard, Guinevere Turner. (1997, NR, 80 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 5, 1997

It's unclear what type of movie Latin Boys Go to Hell aspires to be: Melodrama? Parody? Psychodrama? Soap opera? Tragedy? Or is it all of the above? Whatever its aspirations, the film constantly struggles for an identity as it veers from the straightforward to the histrionic to the near-camp, leaving you asking yourself afterward, “What was that all about?” Adapted from Andre Salas' novel, Latin Boys Go to Hell features several New York City Latino and Latina characters, each with his or her set of problems, mostly the love kind. The film's couplings are both gay and straight. What's interesting -- and yet somewhat disappointing, in a backhanded way -- is how the homosexuality issue is never really explored from a cultural perspective. (The frequent visual references to Catholic iconography almost go there but lack the necessary context.) But, as you might expect from the title, a few of the movie's males fit certain ethnic stereotypes -- jealous, quick-tempered, irrational, deceitful -- while others are of a kinder, gentler nature. Director Troyano uses an over-the-top TV sudser called Dos Vidas as a running commentary of sorts all through the movie, using the program's storyline to serve as a not-so-subtle counterpoint to what's happening in the lives of the film's characters. In addition to this narrative device, he periodically employs imagery that is often befuddling. What's with the stuffed toy clown? Or the statue of the Virgin Mary with tears running down her face? By the the time the plot of Latin Boys Go to Hell starts playing like some bad Mexican potboiler, the movie seems to be in another world, complete with a cackling gunman seemingly turned deranged overnight. In another more accomplished and experienced filmmaker's hands, this fevered turn might have been something deliriously entertaining. Imagine Pedro Almodovar here -- he would have taken these boys to hell and back, and to all kinds of places in between.

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