Local independent director/writer Bryan Ramírez has potential. While that might sound like a backhanded compliment for someone determined to lead a San Antonio film renaissance, it isn’t meant to be. I have little doubt Ramírez can produce something substantial for the silver screen. Unfortunately, the crime drama Mission Park, his first solo feature-length project, is not that movie—but it’s close. While Ramírez has a knack for capturing a consistent tone, his script lacks the imagination needed to leave a lasting impression on the genre. It does confirm, however, his significant technical chops behind the camera
In Mission Park, Ramírez follows four childhood friends who have grown up and grown apart—far apart—but remain linked by a tragic event they all experienced as kids. Bobby (Jeremy Ray Valdez) and Julian (Will Rothhaar) have graduated from the FBI academy and are eager to start their service as rookie agents. Jason (Walter Pérez) and Derek (Joseph Julian Soria) stay behind to sling drugs and contribute to an increasing wave of crime in San Antonio. With Jason sitting at the top of the drug world, Bobby is assigned to go undercover and bring down his entire operation
Loyalty, friendship and ambition are a few of the themes Ramírez presents in Mission Park, but the film is hard-pressed to contribute anything new to a formulaic storyline where brothers/best-friends find themselves on opposite sides of the law. From Blood in, Blood Out to Tequila Sunrise to Hong Kong’s A Better Tomorrow (and countless more in between), the framework is a tired one, especially when the screenplay doesn’t deviate from hitting familiar plot devices (corrupt cops, love triangles, etc)
Mission Park starts off well enough. Four teenagers (willingly and unwillingly) participate in the robbery of a neighborhood restaurant. The incident claims the life of an employee and reveals the impetus behind the decisions these young men make as they mature into adulthood. That strong set-up quickly dissolves into cliché and predictable scenes once the audience is introduced to the boys five years after they graduate from high school
Even if audiences can believe Jason has somehow become a powerful kingpin of “the single largest drug trafficking organization in North America” or that the FBI would put a major case on the back of one inexperienced agent, the script doesn’t tie everything together with much conviction. In the movie, Ramírez explains a lot of the choices he makes as a screenwriter (for example, Julian gets involved in the sting because he is “tired of being a fucking desk monkey” and “signed up to see some action”), but details like these are fragile at best and expose plot holes as the film continues. Falling by the wayside is a much-needed scene where Julian informs his superiors about his plans or a realistic reason as to why he isn’t given a cover in the police database. Next time, Ramírez should focus on creating a more organic flow to the plot
Aside from the narrative pitfalls, the film is technically sharp (a dialogue-less airport scene with actress Fernanda Romero looks fantastic) and boasts an impressive overall production value. Ramírez also got a couple of solid performances from Pérez and Soria right up to the final, bloody third act in an abandoned warehouse (someone fetch a straight razor and cue up Stealers Wheel), which is wrapped up in a fairly generic way. Nevertheless, with a little tightening up of the loose ends, Ramírez’s stock will rise. As Mission Park teaches viewers, “one day doesn’t define a man.” The same goes for filmmakers and their films.
Dir. and writ. Bryan Ramírez; feat. Jeremy Ray Valdez, Walter Pérez, Will Rothhaar, Joseph Julian Soria, Fernanda Romero, Will Estes (R)
Opens at Santikos theaters Sept 5
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