The Austin Chronicle

Johnny 100 Pesos

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by Gustavo Graef-Marino. Starring Armando Araiza, Patricia Rivera, Willy Semler, Sergio Hernandez.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Jan. 19, 1996

With his second feature, Johnny 100 Pesos, Chilean director and co-writer Gustavo Graef-Marino (The Voice) begins with a story taken from riveting, real-life material but delivers an uneven and occasionally lackluster scenario. Based on a fumbled bank robbery in Santiago, Chile in the fall of 1990, Johnny 100 Pesos recounts the experiences of 17-year-old high school student Johnny Garcia (Araiza) and his four accomplices. Until their holdup of a money exchange that masquerades as a video club, Johnny dealt in small-time theft. Desperate to move into career thievery, Johnny becomes involved with four older, more experienced criminals. Johnny's inept actions require the thieves to hold the video club's employees hostage and result in a politically motivated news circus. “You trying to bring us all down?” cries leader Freddy (Semler) when the newsmen announce that they have recovered Johnny's backpack and his school identification card, thus fingering him as one of the five criminals. Graef-Marino's direction of the scenes involving the media and one particularly zealous journalist (Hernandez) effectively comment on the bloodthirsty nature of the television and newspaper reporting media and the immoral lengths to which some reporters will go to in order to get the story. The film's depiction of a local television station's ratings-grabbing “Let's Save a Youth for Chile” plan to rehabilitate Johnny during their coverage of the hostage situation is one successful example of such tactics; another effective technique is the intercutting of actual footage from the holdup with Graef-Marino's narrative. Unfortunately, the primary scenes that involve the criminals and their hostages are not as strong. As Johnny's lust and supposed affection for the video club's “secretary” Gloria (Rivera) develops, the film's tone lurches between tense situations and farcical dialogue and stiff performances. Graef-Marino's primary intent seems to depict the ludicrous nature and bureaucracy that are part of the related institutions of Chilean media and politics. This real-life bungled heist offers a terrific scenario for such a film, but the narrative's quick pacing appears choppy rather than compelling. Equally misplaced is Andres Pollak's score, which sounds disturbingly like a 1980s Giorgio Moroder soundtrack. An entry in last year's Sundance Film Festival and the New Directors/New Films series in New York, Johnny 100 Pesos certainly has been talked up but ultimately fails to deliver the goods.

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