Streets of Legend
Some movies try to appeal to several types of audiences. Start off with action for the guys and throw in a romance for the gals. ‘Streets of Legend’ begins with the basic premise of the box office success, ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and stirs in a love story plot reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Joaquin Hernandez (Victor Larios), who goes by the street name of Chato is the first generation born here in the United States of Guatemalan parents. He lives at home with his mother, grandmother and younger brother, a far cry from his street image. Chato appears to rebel from the matriarchal structure of his home life by being a complete misogynist. In the opening scene Chato is receiving from a girl in the back of his car and blows up when his pants are shall we say, soiled. He explodes, making use her socks to clean up. He then forces her to toss the socks out the window to avoid contact with his beloved car. Chato also defies authority any way he can. Although he is on parole his continues to smoke pot and engage in the illegal street racing scene. When he is called in for a routine urine test he is busted for using another person’s sample. With his parole violated Chato is returned to jail. While he is in lock up the girl he was with his car tells Chato’s girl friend Noza Flores (Brihanna Hernandez) about the philandering getting Noza quite upset with him. They wander over to the street races where Noza hooks up with a brooding front runner, Derek Alan Smith know as Quattro (Robert Beaumont). Quattro lives with his widowed grandfather, Bob (Gary Brockette) and is a lot more stable than the mercurial Chato. Meanwhile, Chato manages to escape from jail and is determined to regain his property, Noza. The film does not even attempt to give a little twist here; the writers go right for the standard film ploy of a showdown between the two guys for the affections, or in Chato’s case, the possession of the fair Noza.
There are basically two things that work in the film. First there are the action sequences. The cars are fast and the action was worked naturally into the world created by the plot. Second this is a film of contrasts. The main juxtaposition is between Chato and his arch rival Quattro. While Chato displays the deep rooted resentment of his mother and grandmother by considering all women as mere chattel, Quattro is deeper, more angst ridden yet far more respectful of the fair gender. Quattro is obviously trying to get his life on track while Chato is doing everything possible to get himself deeper and deeper into trouble with the law and anyone vaguely concerned with him. Noza is far from the self empowered female leads that have become popular in films over the last twenty years. Considering her friend seemed willing to obey Chato in the car Noza has little in her life to show her a better way to be treated. When she becomes involved with Quattro it appears to be the first relationship that did not have overtones of being subservient.
This is the freshmen effort for all three of the film’s leads. Considering they are just starting out in the field they do well. Victor Larios goes a bit over the top with Chato, pushing the obvious distain for women. It may have been better if this was not so overt permitting the audience to come to an understanding of his motivation. He makes the rookie mistake of trying too hard here. Still, he has a fundamental grasp of his craft and manages to get the audience to polarize against Chato. Brihanna Hernandez like so many young actresses is beautiful. She does well with her portrayal of the lamented Noza. Hernandez is able to get the audience rooting for her to ditch Chato and find happiness with her new beau. She displays the ability to take her character on an arc from submissive door mat to a more independent young woman. Robert Beaumont has the most difficult role to play as Quattro. There have been so many angst ridden young actors that he has to go much farther to bring himself apart from the pack. After all, the archetype for this role was set with James Dean and those are impossible shoes to fill for any new actor. Beaumont is able to hold and emotional level of interest both in his contentious scenes with Larios and the softer scenes with Hernandez. This does demonstrate a range that hopefully develops over the coming years.
Director Joey Curtis made a splash with this film in the 2003 festival circuit. ‘Streets of Legend’ was nominated for the coveted Independent Spirit Award in both the Best First Feature and Best Cinematographer categories. It was also nominated for the Grand Jury Award and won for Best Cinematographer in the 2003 Sundance Film festival. The reason is Curtis has a natural flair for framing an action scene. He ramps up the speed of the car and although we have seen such races before gives the audience the required thrill. Curtis does need some work on the pacing of the film. The plot does occasionally get bogged down with exposition. This is not a deal breaker here just something that happens to new directors. His innate talent is such that I look forward to his future work. While there is a touch of a film school feel here the direction of his fresh faced cast is very good. It can’t be easy to work with so many without feature film experience and get something that can be considered for prestigious awards. His use of lighting and the framing of each scene is a delight to watch and able to hold the audience’s interest.
Lion’s Gate has a commitment to giving the best possible DVD transfer for even the smaller films in its vaults. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is brilliant. The color balance is true to life and vivid. The contrast holds together even when light and dark are pressed together. The Dolby 5.l audio mix is one of the more vibrant to come around in awhile. The sub woofer booms out during the racing scenes shaking the living room like you where on the street watching. The rear speakers go into ambience mode for most of the feature giving a full, realistic sound stage. There is very good channel separation between the two front main speakers. The commentary track was very interesting, letting the listener into the mental process of a fledging director-writer. There is also a documentary on the creation process resulting in the feature. Two of the action sequences are highlighted with a special look, the fight scene and the pivotal car crash. ‘Blowout at 140 MPH’ examines some of the dangers involved with an action oriented film such as this. While those involved are just beginners they are bound to have success in their future.