“No Man’s Land” is a well-intentioned take on the “troubles along the border” story, so at least it has that over Liam Neeson’s latest. Nobody’s accused “The Marksman” of having the best intentions.
But “No Man’s Land,” from the duo of director Conor Allyn and co-writer and sometime star Jake Allyn (“Forsaken”) is something of a misfire in its own way.
It’s got the “prejudiced man’s redemption” story arc that “Marksman” avoided, and a pretty good cast. But it blunders its way through the Texas-Mexico border country like a blind bull in a Talavera pottery shop, with stereotypes, flakey lapses in logic and an unbalanced story seen from multiple points of view.
Jackson (Jake Allwyn of TV’s “The Baxters”) is a ranch kid with a rocket arm and a tryout with the New York Yankees in his future. But he’s reluctant to leave the ropin’, ridin’ lifestyle, and his mom, dad and big brother behind. He figures he’s needed there.
The Greer Ranch is south of the U.S. border fence but north of the Rio Grande. For some reason, groups of illegal immigrants — or the coyotes leading them — cut their fencing when they pass through this “no man’s land.” Cattle get out, and that’s a serious cash loss if the Greers can’t retrieve them.
Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez) is on the other side of that border, a guide nicknamed “The Shepherd” because he’s more Good Catholic than “coyote.” He doesn’t prey on desperate people trying to cross into the U.S. When we meet him, he’s bringing his teen son and a group with him, avoiding the clutches of more predatory coyotes like Luis (Andrés Delgado).
Gustavo and those in his care run afoul of patriarch Bill (Frank Grillo) and oldest boy Lucas (Alex MacNicoll) in the dark as the ranchers try to round up the cattle who got out the last time migrants crossed their land. A scuffle is just starting as Jackson gallups up.
Somebody gets stabbed, somebody gets shot and the Ranger (George Lopez) who arrives has more hunches than evidence. But Jackson knows who pulled the trigger and killed young Fernando. And it eats at him.
With a brother clinging to life in the hospital and his dad willing to take the fall for pulling the trigger, a Yankees tryout and uh nobody to mind the ranch, Jackson and his painted pony cross the river to make amends. Grieving Gustavo and his new pal Luis might have something to say about that.
The Allyn brothers try to conjure up a Western out of its time, a sort of “All the Pretty Horses” without the punch of Cormac McCarthy, a “No Country for Old Men” with young men. They’re stealing from the best, but the whole affair is more frustrating than fulfilling.
The action is thin, the pace is meandering. And their stabs at political correctness mean we set eyes on stereotypically lawless Mexico, here supposedly burnished by the saintly Gustavo, who does everything but call the people he smuggles across the border his “flock.”
Although Jackson’s learning curve has hints of redemption, some of the waypoints on his journey are eye-rollers. He’s grown up on the border and doesn’t know the territory, the cuisine, the history or more than a couple of words of Spanish?
Jake Allyn isn’t particularly graceful at getting across the Jackson’s manslaughter guilt and grief. Taking a job at a Mexican ranch and meeting the fair Victoria (Esmeralda Pimentel) is a cliche and a pace-killing distraction the movie can ill afford.
But as we’ve heard the migrants note that “Texas looks a lot like Mexico,” it’s helpful to have that rancher (Juan Carlos Remolina) here to underscore the movie’s “We’re the same on both sides of this border” message.
“We are all cattle drovers, and we will all meet again down the road.”
Lopez brings a hint of gravitas to his Texas Ranger able to sympathize with the both sides of the conflict. MacDowell has a nice motherly moment, but veteran screen tough guy Frank Grillo is pretty much wasted here.
“No Man’s Land” plays like a buffet diner who has overfilled his plate. There’s too much thrown in here to do justice to anybody’s story.
And despite its dragging pace, little more than lip service is paid to the many points of view addressed in a story that wants to look at a political flashpoint but is too afraid of striking a match to get a grip on it.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for some strong violence and language
Cast: Jake Allyn, Jorge A. Jimenez, Andie MacDowell, Frank Grillo, Esmeralda Pimentel, Alex MacNicoll and George Lopez.
Credits: Directed by Conor Allyn, script by Jake Allyn and David Barraza. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:55