Jesse Baget's comedy about a racist's awakening stars Tom Sizemore as a Ku Klux Klan bigwig doing a stint in a prison.
A fable of one racist's redemption in the hinterlands of 1970s East Texas, Jesse Baget's Cellmates may be short on plausibility but compensates with an amiable tone and lack of the heavy-handedness its premise risks. Its low-rent cast and unappealing key art won't help at the box office, but viewers who stumble across it on cable may be pleasantly, if mildly, surprised.
Clearly inspired by the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Baget goes heavy on florid Southern narration when introducing Leroy Lowe (Tom Sizemore), a Ku Klux Klan bigwig doing a stint in a prison whose warden (Stacy Keach) is obsessed with potato farming. Though Lowe recoils when forced to share a cell with decidedly non-white Emilio Ortiz (Hector Jimenez), he comes to depend on him when lovely cleaning woman Madalena (Olga Segura) begins sending the grumpy bigot love notes...in Spanish.
All three male leads are encouraged to go broad here, but their performances are entertainingly animated -- especially in Sizemore's case, as he chews through dialogue like a good ol' boy one beer away from starting to slur. Keach makes the most of a one-note role, rhapsodizing about the legalized slavery of prison-farming and the varieties of potatoes he grows; as for Jimenez, still employing the bizarre exaggeration of Mexican otherness that made some viewers uncomfortable in Nacho Libre, the proximity of Sizemore's bug-eyed racist indignation makes his act easier to swallow.
The course of Lowe's Road-to-Damascus awakening is predictable but fairly sweet; Segura maintains her dignity despite having nothing to do but shower inspirational affection on a man she has every reason to disdain.
Opens: Friday, June 1 (Viva Pictures)
Production Company: White Knight Films, Producciones a Ciegas
Cast: Tom Sizemore, Hector Jimenez, Olga Segura, Kevin Farley, Stacy Keach
Director-Editor: Jesse Baget
Screenwriters: Jesse Baget, Stefania Moscato
Producers: Jesse Baget, Daniel Bort, Andrea Bottigliero, Stefania Moscato, Karuna Eberl, Andrea Monier
Executive producers: Sean Gowrie, Hector Jimenez
Director of photography: Bill Otto
Production designer: Elvis Strange
Music: Jim Lang
Costume designer: Belen Ricoy
No rating, 85 minutes.