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El Chicano


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NEW YORK (CNS) -- A masked vigilante prowls the dark, mean streets of the inner city, fighting crime and defending the defenseless. He's a potent symbol of hope and fear, a legend in his lifetime.

No, he's not that caped crusader, Batman, but "El Chicano" (Briarcliff), star of the first superhero film with an all-Hispanic cast. Unfortunately, the similarities end there.

"El Chicano" features extreme, graphic violence and an expressed endorsement of vigilantism that will not sit well with viewers of faith. Moreover, the presentation of Catholic symbols and rituals, suggestive of their misuse in connection with voodoo and Santeria, is gratuitous and confusing, seeming at times to condone the bloodshed on screen.

Clearly, this is not your typical popcorn superhero movie in the Marvel/DC vein and should be approached with caution even by grown-ups.

"In the barrio bad things happen when the sky turns black," intones the aptly-named Shadow (Emilio Rivera), a wicked gang leader in East Los Angeles. And how. Shadow gets his comeuppance at the hands of El Chicano, aka "The Ghetto Grim Reaper."

Sporting a blank hoodie, leather face mask and a shiny motorcycle, this stylish bandito dispenses justice by plunging an elaborate "Aztec knife" into the chests of the baddies.

Twin brothers Diego and Pedro Hernandez (both played by Raul Castillo) witnessed Shadow's killing as boys, and the violent act shaped their future paths. Diego entered the police force determined to fight crime, while Pedro descended into a life of crime that eventually cost him his life.

Years pass, and an extraordinary incident leads Diego to question how Pedro really died. A Mexican drug cartel has invaded the barrio, led by the slimy El Gallo (Sal Lopez), who embarks on a killing spree. Investigating the massacre, Diego is astonished to see that all of the victims have the same tattoo on their arms, a reference to his dead brother.

Digging deeper, Diego unlocks a storage facility rented by Pedro, and discovers his brother's dark secret: he was El Chicano! The men who died were loyal to him and to his determination to oust the drug lords from the neighborhood. That quest led to Pedro's death.

It's not hard to see where "El Chicano" heads next, as Diego, frustrated by traditional (and slow) means of law enforcement, decides to take up his brother's cause. His boss, Capt. Gomez (George Lopez), suspects something fishy is going on, although Diego's wife, Vanessa (Aimee Garcia), and strong-willed mother, Susana (Marlene Forte), remain in the dark.

Director Ben Hernandez Bray, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Carnahan, serves up suspense and gore in equal measure as a new iteration of the masked avenger takes to the streets. "El Chicano" is not for the squeamish, and viewers might even welcome a mask of their own -- one that covers their eyes.

The film contains graphic bloody violence, skewed religious imagery and frequent profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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CAPSULE REVIEW

"El Chicano" (Briarcliff)

A masked vigilante prowls the dark, mean streets of the inner city, fighting crime and defending the defenseless in this first superhero film with an all-Hispanic cast, directed and co-written by Ben Hernandez Bray. A police detective (Raul Castillo), investigating a massacre carried out by the head (Sal Lopez) of a vicious drug cartel discovers that his late brother had a secret identity as the eponymous avenger determined to clean up the barrio. Before long he takes up the mantle himself, despite the suspicions of his police captain (George Lopez). With extreme violence, an expressed endorsement of vigilantism and a confusing presentation of Catholic rituals, suggestive of their misuse in connection with voodoo, and Santeria, this is not a typical popcorn superhero movie and should be approached with caution even by grown-ups. Graphic bloody violence, skewed religious imagery, frequent profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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CLASSIFICATION

"El Chicano" (Briarcliff) -- Catholic News Service classification, L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Motion Picture Association of America rating, R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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