Illegal Tender Review
Director John Singleton was once famed for his films taking an edgy look at inner city life, particularly from a black perspective. Boyz N da Hood from back in 1991 remains his most famous offering, as high profile duds such as Shaft and 2 Fast 2 Furious showed none of the insight into real life issues he had built his reputation on. With Illegal Tender, he takes a producer role for a gun-filled thriller where family ties and gangster feuds erupt around a Latino family in Puerto Rico. Although he leaves the writing and directing to Franc Reyes, it’s a welcome move back to his grass root style despite its well-trodden reflection on lives blighted by crime.
Illegal Tender starts with the murder of Wilson DeLeon (Perez), a criminal mastermind but loving husband and father. His widower Millie (De Jesus) flees with her two sons to try to rebuild her life and family, but soon finds the past catches up with her new life.
Fast forward 21 years and blinged-up son Wilson Jr. (Gonzalez) is enjoying his high school life with a hot girlfriend Ana (Ramierez). Despite clearly being privileged to having more money than his mother could conceivably earn and relocation every couple of years, he’d never realised there might be something dark about his parent’s past. Sure enough, the gangsters finally track them down and Wilson Jr. must take a stand to protect his family in the shadow of his father.
It’s very convenient that the only time the gangsters manage to catch up with Millie is when Wilson Jr. is old enough to battle against them, but as a melodrama with action tacked on for a few thrills, Illegal Tender offers light entertainment. “Protecting the family” is an admirable message to put across, and looking past the obvious flaws in the story Reyes delivers thanks to De Jesus putting in a spirited performance as a distressed mother frightened her child will face the same end as his father. Gonzalez pitches Wilson Jr. as the reluctant hero, only taking affirmative action when pushed, but then going the extra mile to put an end to the threat to his family. Reyes doesn’t make him into a particularly memorable character, we’ve seen his type before, and that is the major failing of Illegal Tender: it never manages to grab you.
Singleton has never been able to tie action together with drama, and as a result the character-driven Boyz N da Hood remains his most renowned movie while those action-based blockbusters have been quickly forgotten. Reyes should take note and shy away from generic thrillers like this in favour of writing a movie that delves into the heart of his characters rather than using them as plot devices. Illegal Tender shows he has potential, he just needs to find a way to achieve it.
Deleted scenes, making of feature, “Dame Dame” by Que No music video and making of feature.
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