Picks and Pans Review: The Border

updated 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

There is a movie struggling to get out of the jumble that director Tony (Tom Jones) Richardson has made of this tale of a Texas border patrol guard who, unlike his buddies, sees Mexican wetbacks as human. But the mix of modes—social document, satire, shoot-'em-up—ultimately fights a losing battle with plausibility. Riding out the storm, however, is Jack Nicholson, who turns sad-sack guard Charlie Smith into one of his most compelling, compassionate roles. "I married a banana," he whines to wife Valerie Perrine (who plays her as such), but he grudgingly allows her to buy a water bed, furniture and swimming pool, none of which they can afford. Perrine also sways him from signing on with the Park Service (he likes to feed the ducks, he explains) and into joining his border guard friend Harvey Keitel, who takes bribes for running illegal Mexican immigrants into the U.S. Keitel and Nicholson perform with fine, lunatic brio until the script takes a grim turn, revealing Keitel as a cold-blooded killer. Nicholson's interest in helping a Mexican woman (Elpidia Carrillo) and her child precipitates a violent climax. Director Richardson makes the mayhem repugnant and ghoulish, though Nicholson's performance goes far to redeem the film. "I want to feel good about something," he says, and his integrity makes the sentiment believable. The movie—with no sincerity or sureness of its own—is not. (R)

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