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CineVegas 2008

Primo

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Courtesy of CineVegas

UNLV film professor Francisco Menendez’s years-in-the-making Primo is clearly a passion project for the filmmaker, and has some interesting things to say about the ways that immigrants assimilate themselves into American culture. It’s too bad that so much about the film is rough and awkward, since Menendez’s worthwhile insights often get lost amid technical issues and a lackluster genre storyline.

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Primo
**
James Oliviero, Matt Ferrucci, Henry Darrow, Eloy Mendez
Directed by Francisco Menendez
From the Weekly
Slow and Steady: Persistence pays off for UNLV’s Francisco Menendez
Primo on IMDb

What work best are the relationships, primarily between cousins Eddie (James Oliviero) and Tony (Matt Ferrucci), both of whom came to the U.S. from El Salvador after a third cousin was abducted by the military for being the son of a guerrilla leader. Almost 20 years later, the three converge in Las Vegas, where Tony is in serious debt to some angry Russian mobsters, Eddie has returned from Chicago to try to win back his ex, and Quique (Eloy Mendez) wants revenge on the boys’ grandfather (Henry Darrow), who had to make a tough choice to let Quique go to save Eddie and Tony.

The strained dynamic within the family would be enough for a rewarding story, and veteran character actor Darrow is strong as the conflicted patriarch. But Menendez spends far too much time on the clichéd gangster storyline, which results in an absurd and protracted climax that drowns the tender family drama in overwrought theatrics. The movie also suffers from prevalent poor dialogue dubbing that robs many of the serious, dramatic scenes of their potential emotional impact. It doesn’t help, either, that much of the writing is stilted and exposition-heavy.

Menendez has made a movie about a serious subject that deserves careful consideration, but that movie only occasionally emerges in the muddled result that has ended up onscreen.

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