08 November 2010

In 'N Out

United States/Mexico – 1984
Director – Ricardo Franco
New World Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 30 minutes

In 'N Out first came up here when I discovered a number of Mexican films about border crossing. The Spanish title, Gringo Mojado means more or less literally “white wetback”, and I got excited for something that contradicted “our” narrative of the border and gave some insight into that of our southern neighbors. The director’s Spanish surname further encourages this line of thought and I had high hopes.
It is honestly hard for me to say how much of the Mexican sentiment came through in this film because I haven’t seen many purely Mexican films. I would be willing to guess very little. For one thing it’s filmed in English indicating its intended audience. And secondly all the supporting characters (and at times the stars) conform to expected stereotypes. Despite the obvious assumption, it turns out the director is a Spaniard (a nephew of Jess Franco), and only one of the four producers is not United Statesian. Despite being outnumbered and facing an uphill battle this small Raza element does manage to ripple some otherwise placid waters.

The script itself is a thoroughly uninspired and confusing attempt at comedy but it has it’s moments. Rafael Inclan plays Nieves Blanco (“Snow White”), a mariachi who longs to immigrate to the U.S. in order to be a lounge singer, “the Mexican Dean Martin.” He lives in a small house with his sister Lupita (Mexican TV actress Rebecca Jones) a domestic worker who hates the U.S. and wants nothing to do with it. When Murray Lewis (Sam Bottoms, Apocalypse Now) goes to Mexico to track down a mysterious inheritance, he becomes friends with the Blanco siblings who mock his “woman’s” name, “Maria Luisa”. Throughout the rest of the film, Murray is accosted and harassed by Mexicans who make it abundantly clear that he is not welcome in their country.  At one point, he and Nieves get drunk marveling at the irony of their situation, and Murray suddenly realizes that Mexicans are Americans too. “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States, “ Nieves replies. Murray has to sneak back into Mexico a number of times and in the films greatest moment he and Lupita fall for each other and remain in Mexico, while Nieves, with a new passport and a new name, heads North to croon.

Many of these moments, couched as they are within an unchallenging narrative, simply pass by without comment or emphasis, as if they were accidental. Comedies rely on a large element of expectation and its fulfillment or un-fulfillment to exploit their humor, but In ‘N Out oftentimes fights against itself. If the script had stuck to either a comedic formula, or fully rejected it, it would have been less confused by its own meanderings, both literal and metaphorical. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t have been both, but the moments of transgression are not played for their comedic potential, and the attempts at comedy thus have little to anchor them. My conclusion, is that despite its moments of transgression, In ‘N Out couldn’t be too challenging otherwise it might have been a message film, and lord knows there's no audience for that.

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