Talento de Barrio

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Opens: October 10 in Los Angeles, New York (Maya Releasing)

Rough around the edges and loose in its structure, the Puerto Rican gang movie “Talento de Barrio” is at its best when it examines quotidian life in the slums. Drugs and sex are the only diversions from low-paying jobs and hopelessness and gangsterism and music the only glam professions. Unfortunately, director Jose Ivan Santiago and writers George Rivera and Angel Sanjurjo can’t sock across the major scenes. Anything that requires dramatic intensity or emotional revelation comes off stiff and unconvincing.

The Spanish-language film exists, apparently, as a motion picture vehicle for the “superstar” of reggaeton -- or Puerto Rican rap -- Daddy Yankee, whose real name is Ramon Ayala. Like much better movies starring Eminem and 50 Cents, “Talento de Barrio” forms a kind of imaginary biography of a kid from the barrio who becomes a hot musical performer. The film has made over $1 million in Puerto Rico, but isn’t likely to attract much attention in a limited Stateside release beyond Daddy Yankee fans.

Oddly, there aren’t nearly enough musical performances (and none subtitled into English) while the scenes involving the young man’s overnight success belong in a Warner Bros. musical of the ‘30s. Daddy Yankee has enough self-confidence as an actor to carry his scenes, but the underdeveloped story and characters undermine this effort.

He plays the aptly named Edgar Dinero, whose only seeming goal in life is the accumulation of mucho dinero. He is a two-bit thug who rules the Green Field neighborhood project. His mother (Norma Colon) laments his choice of profession, refusing to leave her home in the project for his middle-class house.

Edgar lacks any musical ambition, but a record producer forces him on stage at a seedy night club and secretly records his rap to convince him to switch professions. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a nice middle-class woman (Katiria Soto), a further inspiration for a career change. Unfortunately, he fails to notice that his younger sister (Angelica Alcaide) is becoming a junkie thanks to a vicious ex-con (Angel Rodriguez) in his gang.

The film is very clumsy in key areas. It’s not at all clear that much of the movie is being told in flashback. The motivation for a couple of brutal beatings and a gang conflict is murky. Two hapless cops who cruise through the project are unintended jokes: Police radio calls go out to “all units,” but these two clowns are the only ones who ever show up. The movie even ends in confusion: It isn’t clear whether Edgar has survive an attack or not.

Cast: Daddy Yankee, Angel Rodriguez, Cesar Farrait, Eddie Avila, Katiria Soto Glorimar Montalvo, Angelica Alcaide.
Director: Jose Ivan Santiago.
Co-director: George Rivera
Screenwriters: Angel Sanjurjo, George Rivera.
Producers: George Rivera.
Executive producers: Edwin Prado, Daddy Yankee.
Director of photography: Leslie J. Colombani, Jr.
Production designer: Pascual Febus.
Music: Samuel Lopez.
Costume designer: Julia Michelle Santiago.
Editor: Mariem Perez.
Rated R, 105 minutes.


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