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Starring Benjamin Bratt
Written and Directed by Leon Ichaso
no website

IN SHORT: A bioflick that staggers under the visual weight of over-direction. [Rated R for drug use, strong language and sexuality. 97 minutes]

There is an underside to Life in the City of New York and Miguel Piñero (Benjamin Bratt) wrote about that life, when he wasn't busy sticking a needle into his arm or sticking up local shops to feed his habit. We're being as pretentious in our use of capital letters as director Leon Ichaso does with his visual style in his film of the life of Miguel Piñero. To put it simply, Piñero was a poet and a writer who found a mentor in Public Theater Director Joseph Papp (Mandy Patinkin) and who found fame as the writer of plays and movies such as Short Eyes and Fort Apache, The Bronx and teevee scripts for Kojack, Baretta and Miami Vice. Most of that information we pass along from the press notes as the construction of Piñero assumes you know who the man was and what he accomplished in his lifetime. That may be so if you're a member of the Hispanic community, which we are not. It is less so if you're a New Yorker, which we are, and so recognized the names of some of his plays, which generated their own buzz even if the name didn't travel up or downtown from their performances.

There are a lot of tools available to film directors. Different film and video equipment. The use of color (or lack thereof) to denote time or place. That doesn't mean that a director has to use 'em all-- and certainly not helter skelter as Leon Ichaso does in Piñero. What may be or may have been a monumental performance by Benjamin Bratt is utterly lost in the visual confusion that spews across the screen.

And while a sequence of titles tells you all the background you need to know about the general background famed poet Miguel Piñero, what follows doesn't convey much about the man. It's almost as if director Ichaso didn't trust the story that writer Ichaso laid out; that this story about a junkie poet would be strong enough to hold our attention. So the constant shifts from color to b&w or visual changes due to the recording medium. We're beating a dead horse here but there's little more to do when the distractions were so overwhelming. Perhaps this is, conceptually, visual poetry. Concepts are one thing. A story is another and should always have priority.

The story should have been a good one, for there are few who had come out of the Puerto Rican community to find success at the time that Piñero did in the 1970s and even fewer who succeeded despite their use of heroin. Piñero's story is unique in that it wasn't the junk that killed him, it was a liver disorder (and note the cameo appearance by Robert Klein as the doctor who delivers the bad news). Supported by his mother (Rita Moreno), girlfriend (Talisa Soto) and best friend (Giancarlo Esposito), the question of whether Piñero would have achieved greater heights in his career as writer and/or performer -- you only get a brief taste of his teevee bit work -- will remain a question. What you see of the recreations of his poetic performances is as clichéd and overemphatic as comedic parodies of poetry readings tend to be. We'll guess, based on the number of surviving friends who consulted this production, that the performance style is close to what it was and let it go at that.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Piñero, he would have paid . . .


We've worked with Bratt in the past and have watched his career with interest ever since. Sooner or later he'll get the solo shot that will make him as big an A-lister as his ex girlfriend (though he's already said he doesn't crave the celebrity and loss of personal space that comes with it). This ain't it.

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