EL CHICANO (IN CINEMA TODAY) | VIEWER’S REVIEW………

When L.A.P.D. Detective Diego Hernandez is assigned a career-making case investigating a vicious cartel, he uncovers links to his brother’s supposed suicide and a turf battle that’s about to swallow his neighborhood. Torn between playing by the book and seeking justice, he resurrects the masked street legend El Chicano. Now, out to take down his childhood buddy turned gang boss, he sets off a bloody war to defend his city and avenge his brother’s murder

Review: ‘El Chicano’ a frustrating framing of Latino vigilante

Raul Castillo stars as the masked title character in the film “El Chicano.”Photo: Briarcliff Entertainment

Ben Hernandez Bray, director of the masked-avenger film “El Chicano,” is a veteran Hollywood stunt coordinator. So, it would seem a given that the film’s action sequences would be good.

But these blurry, hurried scenes are among the most frustrating elements in a largely disappointing movie. They are sped up and edited in a manner that obscures the action. Even the big reveal scene in which Los Angeles police Detective Diego Hernandez (Raúl Castillo) first shows up dressed as El Chicano is hard to make out.

In between all that rushing, the pacing is leaden. The script by Bray and filmmaker Joe Carnahan (“The Grey”) spends too much time on Diego’s and El Chicano’s backstories.

Diego and his twin, Pedro, grew up in East L.A. knowing the legend of El Chicano, a chopper-riding killer of criminals. El Chicano apparently made sure everybody knew it. He put his graffiti-like mark on stop signs at the ends of streets where he was going to take out the next bad guy. Then he would knock down the signs. He was an over-killer.

Raul Castillo (right) plays LAPD Detective Diego Hernandez in the film “El Chicano.”Photo: Briarcliff Entertainment

Diego grew up to be a cop and Pedro a criminal, because “priest” apparently already was taken in the twin-cliche handbook. Pedro is dead by the time we meet the adult Diego. This is sad for the family but a relief for viewers. Castillo, from HBO’s “Looking,” is a highly compelling presence, and he broods believably as Diego. But playing twins throughout the movie would have been high-wire acting that this low-budget film does not appear to have the infrastructure to support.

Diego’s decision to transform himself into El Chicano to fight a cartel, for example, is unsupported by the script, despite all that backstory. Diego also lacks any nuance as a character. He is grim and humorless, like most everything else about this film. The hint of twinkle that George Lopez brings to the role of Diego’s captain is the only suggestion of fun in “El Chicano.” Carnahan’s films are a mixed lot, but he brings a brio to them that goes missing here.

A character in “El Chicano” mentions Los Angeles’ zoot suit riots of the 1940s, and playwright/filmmaker Luis Valdez, who directed the 1981 film “Zoot Suit.” Such shout-outs give welcome cultural context to “El Chicano,” as a film set in L.A. with a predominantly Latino cast. But they also elicit comparisons between the films’ respective mythical figures, and El Chicano comes off as a wet blanket next to Edward James Olmos’ charismatic El Pachuco in “Zoot Suit.”

“El Chicano”: Action drama. Starring Raúl Castillo, George Lopez and Aimee Garcia. Directed by Ben Hernandez Bray. Theaters and showtimes. (R. 107 minutes)

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