Picks and Pans Review: Born in East L.a.

updated 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Like many current news stories, the spill of illegal aliens over the Mexican border is ripe with comedic opportunities. But potential doesn't always equal pay dirt, as this disjointed movie proves. Writer-director Cheech Marin, minus his sidekick of 15 years, Tommy Chong, has cast himself as a California-born Mexican American who does not habla espanol and thinks that Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican holiday, is a person. Problems begin when he picks up his illegal alien cousin, Paul (Quicksilver) Rodriquez, at a stuffed-toy factory that employs wetbacks. Just as Cheech arrives, there's an immigration raid and he is hauled across the border to Tijuana. Unable to produce his wallet, Cheech has no way to prove his identity, and his hip English fails to convince the immigration officials that he's American. He finds his situation all the more befuddling since nearly everyone speaks to him in Spanish. Cheech spends most of the movie, which is more like a string of uneven skits, trying to make enough money from a cheap bar owner, Daniel (Diner) Stern, to buy his way back to California. "I really like having you around," Stern tells him. "You're kind of like a pet." Though Cheech is obviously trying to make a statement about the plight of Mexicans, as well as Mexican-Americans, he's a little too sentimental for a wacky comedy like this. And while Cheech's requisite love, newcomer Kamala Lopez, is striking enough, she is given little more to do than stand around and watch the star being alternately crazy and kind. The film's funniest moments come when Rodriquez, who speaks no English, is alone in Cheech's house and thinks he hears the voice of God issuing from a telephone-answering machine behind a picture of Christ. But much of the movie doesn't achieve this level of humor. The comic ideas were there, they just needed more nurturing. As it is, Born in East L.A. was delivered prematurely. (R)

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