Spoken Word -- Film Review

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Filmmaker Victor Nunez, who scored indie hits during the 1990s with the acclaimed "Ruby in Paradise" and "Ulee's Gold," makes a disappointing return with his latest effort.

"Spoken Word," which centers on the tense reunion between a recovering addict poet and his dying father, features more cliches than it can comfortably handle and is not helped by its grindingly slow pacing.

Central character Cruz Montoya (Kuno Becker) is a big deal on the West Coast poetry circuit, enjoying appreciate audiences, the adoration of his students and the affections of his sexy artist girlfriend. But when he learns that his father, Senior (Ruben Blades), is dying of cancer, he returns to his remote New Mexico hometown for a final reunion.

Unfortunately, the trip proves also personally risky, as it reopens old wounds that lead him back to his former bad-boy ways. Resuming a relationship with local gangster Emilio (Miguel Sandoval), Cruz again takes on his old job of running a nightclub where booze, drugs and fast women are in easy supply.

The reunion with his dying father doesn't go well, either, as the stubbornly laconic Senior initially is unwilling to open himself up emotionally to his son.

In his earlier films, Nunez demonstrated a real talent for wresting terrific performances from his actors, including career-best turns by Ashley Judd and Peter Fonda. He does a similar trick here: Blades, making a return to the screen after several years, delivers a subtle, dignified turn that nearly manages to elevate the proceedings into moving drama.

Unfortunately, most of what else occurs onscreen is not nearly as compelling, with Cruz's wrestling with his demons all too familiarly conveyed in the blunt script co-written by William T. Conway ("Walker, Texas Ranger") and real-life spoken-word artist Joe Ray Sandoval, the latter of whom provides the numerous poetry interludes.

Opens July 23 (Variance Films)
Production: Luminaria
Cast: Kuno Becker, Ruben Blades, Miguel Sandoval, Persia White, Antonio Elias, Monique Gabrielle Curnan, Rashan Nall, Jernard Burks, Maurice Compte
Director: Victor Nunez
Screenwriters: William T. Conway, Joy Ray Sandoval
Director of photography: Virgil Mirano
Editors: Victor Nunez, Justin Geoffrrey
Production designer: Byrce Perrin
Costume designer: Lahly Poore
Music: Michael Brook
No rating, 116 min.
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