The (Almost) Legends 2023 Movie Review
Valentin Abitia (Guillermo Quintanilla) was a rascal. A bullshit artist. A musician. A mechanic. A rally-car driver. And a loving husband and father, twice over and at the same time. Right. Like I said, he’s a rascal: Raquel (Paulina De Labra) and his boy Romeo (Benny Emmanuel) live in his countryside hometown of Bania Colorada, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, Mexico, and Silvia (Karem Momo) and his boy Preciado (Harold Azuara) live on the ferry cruise ship whose travelers he entertains, fronting his banda band. He calls them “family A” and “family B” respectively. And he’s happy, living a joyous life, accepting the fact that he stretches the truth like Silly Putty until it snaps and the ends dangle limply, because that’s just who he is, I guess. He narrates, saying he was famous for performing on TV, but doesn’t mention that it was local TV. He says he’s a hell of a driver too, but that’s surely just more bull roar. Wherever he is, it’s getting deep in there. Real deep.
And then Silvia dies, and Preciado comes to Bania Colorada, breaking Raquel’s heart. And then Valentin himself dies, breaking everyone’s heart. (How? The boat sank.) But he still narrates FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, because that’s “funny.” And now that he’s gone, the most interesting character is no longer in the movie, and we’re only like 10 minutes in, with about 85 more to go. Romeo and Preciado are rivals. They hate each other, and you can tell because they throw drinks on each other and punch each other in the face, stuff like that. The just-barely-adult Romeo decides to ditch town for Mexico City, pursuing his TV-acting dream. Raquel kicks Preciado out, and he moves in with Valentin’s mother, Connie (Nora Velazquez), who runs the family auto-mechanic shop. And life goes on.
Five years pass and Romeo the prodigal son returns. At least he’d like everyone to think he’s a prodigal son – he inherited some of his old man’s shoveling skills, and we can smell it. His goal is to win the 30-hour Sinaloa road rally in his father’s honor, and we promise it has nothing to do with that phone call he receives from a collection agency, nothing at all, nosirree. Some ironies occurred in his absence: Preciado formed a banda band with their cousin Dively (Esmerelda Soto), but he’s a putrid singer, just miserable. And of course, Romeo has the voice of an angel. Romeo wants to drive the rally car, but Preciado is the ace mechanic. Meanwhile, other people want to win the road rally, namely, Don Tasio (Dagoberto Gama), the local rich assface who owns most of the town; his daughter Maren (Ana Celeste) will drive and Tasio will have to be content to be forever disappointed with his aspiring hairdresser and fashion-maven son Tino (Diego Sandoval). So now we have some wacky-supporting-character color to fill some time while we count down to the race and to the big banda performance, neither of which will turn out well for our protags if they don’t set aside their grudges and figure out some way to work together, which is about as challenging as calculating one plus one. But that’s this plot for you.
The (Almost) Legends never recovers from Valentin’s passing. That’s grief for you, right? But it’s also an unfortunate metaphor, because the movie opens with the familiar vibrancy the character emits – you know the type, a morally skeevy gent who lubricates his every interaction with irresistibly greasy charm – then settles into formulaic silliness with a thin emotional veneer. One of its saving graces is director Ricardo Castro Velazquez’s inspired visual dynamic; he establishes a vibrant and colorful palette that gives this sitcommy material some desperately necessary cinematic oomph.
But as a comedy, the film tries too hard to be funny instead of simply being funny. Jokes are plentiful but tired, a classic quantity-over-quality situation; director Velazquez shows an overreliance on goofy hair and costumes and sight gags. The long, wheezy middle portion of the story, between Valentin’s death and the race, allows Soto and Celeste to imbue the narrative with some earnest, easygoing emotional fodder, but mostly just spins its wheels. And of course, it all comes down to the likable characters doing the right thing and the unlikable characters getting some sort of comeuppance – and us sighing wearily that the final musical sequence is finally here to give us a bit of joyous relief from the predictable tedium. Bottom line: mixed bag!