Netflixable? “West Side Story” loses the singing and moves to Arizona for “Loco Love”

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The comment forums on IMDb and elsewhere about the movie “Loco Love” have the occasional complaint that this Spanglish romantic tragedy is “just like” this or that movie from South of the Border.

That might be true, kids. But it’s also a “West Side Story” without the music, and a “Romeo & Juliet” with the Mexican-American border racial divide subbing for the Montagues and Capulets.

“For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
“Loco” is a hot-button teen romance with sex, teen-accurate profanity, “macho” boys tangling over a girl, sex, militias “hunting illegals” crossing the border and gunplay.

It may give away its story too easily and be entirely too obvious low low budget, but it still scores some points in America’s “Border Wall” political debate.

Marisol (Melany Bennett, aka Cobie Smulers 2.0) is a beautiful teen from a loving family in the border country. She works at the mall, talks trash about boys with her Venezuelan pal Tete (Alexa Mansour) and fends off — half-heartedly — the advances of Ramón (Adan Rocha), who has the “macho” hot temper of many a Mexican-American stereotype.

A great day in her familia is when Cousin Genaro (Joel Saak) makes it back across the border from the family’s native Sonora, Mexico.

Then comes that fateful day at the amusement park. Grinning Gavin (Evan Deverian) spies Marisol and Tete and follows them around. Giggling and toothy grins are exchanged, then a “What do YOU want?”

“I was hoping to get a kiss.”

Marisol knows her Shakespeare, so she complies. They move from macking to lip-smacking in the snack bar in a flash.

Of course, he’s ditched the blonde bigot (Natasha Esca) cheerleader who was his date to make this happen. And she had to give Ramón the slip. The furtive romance hasn’t even begun when her crew and his jocks/cheerleaders gang tangle over imagined affronts.

Gavin’s sister (Naian González Norvid) is the instigator, but “Spic” and “Beaner” are a ready insult for any of her white compadres. “Gringo pendajo” rolls off the tongue of Marisol’s family and friends, even her foul-mouthed baby brother.

As the affair takes hold, each must wear the label “traitor” and deal with disapproving relatives and close friends.

Race tops the list of both groups’ arguments, but the playing field isn’t level in the movie or in this debate. Marisol may correct a Hispanic teacher about “Who was here first,” and the injustices foisted on Mexican Americans. But racism and racial resentment fuel the fury of the Anglos.

Gavin’s dad (Christopher Warner) blames the failure of his contracting business on “illegals” and “Cheap labor.”

“They’re like the Taliban!”

“They’re just people trying to get by, Dad. Just like us.”

His mother (Stefanie Sherk) works for a Wall-backing GOP Congressman, and fills her public statements with racial dog-whistle trigger words, immigrants as “a cancer on our society,” “an entire way of life being threatened,” bringing “gangs” to threaten “safety” and “terrorism” into the argument.

Embittered dad is inspired by TV ads recruiting for “The Clayton Brothers Brigade,” a migrant-hunting militia.

That leads to one of the few lighter moments in Loco Love,” as Gavin’s racist football teammate pal Luke (Jordan Wilson) jabs the old man after seeing the commercial.

“You’d make a good Border Patrol Agent, Mr. Hayes.”

“You mocking me boy?”

“No sir. But I would like to point out you have an uncomfortable amount of guns in your home, sir.”

Earl is so far down his race-blaming rabbit hole that he doesn’t hear himself yelling “No WAY, Jose!” when his kid shows up in a Cesar Chavez t-shirt Marisol lent him.

The dialogue is generally bland, though the insults have a seriously racist sting — “Gavin’s too busy eatin’ burritos, now. He’s over you.” “Because he’s white I don’t know who I am?”

There’s heat in the performances, even if this isn’t anybody’s idea of a charismatic “name” cast.

The picture’s cheapness also pokes through in the many scenes shot in the early AM light (no crowds), the malnourished fake “fair” or amusement park they try to pull off, and at a party where all you hear is the thundering of feet on the dance floor (music low enough for dialogue, no money to fix that in post-production).

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“Loco Love,” in English and Spanish and “Spanglish” with English subtitles, makes no secret where its sympathies lie. Nobody articulates the argument that “Just wanting to be here isn’t qualification enough for being allowed here.” Everybody’s too invested, too quick to play the race card to say or think that.

Borrowing from The Bard makes it predictable, but fans of this classic story are always intrigued to see how screenwriters tackle an update, who gets to play the hotheads, who gets hurt or killed.

Only the young and the passionate could possibly figure true love is worth all this hassle, pain, suffering and name calling. Bennett and Deverian make us believe that, even if we know they’re bound for “woe.”

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MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, sexuality, violence

Cast: Melany Bennett, Evan Deverian, Jordan Wilson, Adan Rocha, Joel Saak, Alexa Mansour

Credits:Directed by José Luis Gutiérrez AriasFernando Sariñana, script by  Diego Gutiérrez. A Corazón release.

Running time: 1:42

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