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SAME OLD IMMIGRATION SONG.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

IF MOVIES earned points for good intentions, John Carlos Frey's ``The Gatekeeper'' would receive four-star reviews.

Frey's low-budget film (and with a shoestring cost of $200,000, I do mean low-budget) takes on the abuses that illegal Mexican immigrants sometimes suffer in their pursuit of a better life in America. Frey wears his heart and his politics on his sleeve, and depicts the plight of his characters with an unflinching honesty that might serve as a wake-up call for some.

Unfortunately, though, ``The Gatekeeper'' suffers from a condition that afflicts most ``message'' movies - heavy-handed preachiness. Frey doesn't seem to understand that he can make his point best by creating a good story and memorable characters, not by having everyone in the film spout ideology. It's impossible to empathize with any character in this film simply because you can't get past the clunky dialogue and clumsy execution.

``The Gatekeeper'' deals with a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Adam Fields (Frey) who harbors a lot of hostility from the circumstances of his own mixed-race background. A loose cannon, Fields and his redneck friends believe America is being ``invaded'' and if they don't act soon, they will be forced to eat ``beans and tortillas'' for the rest of their lives!

A bizarre plan is hatched: Fields goes undercover, wearing a homing device, and joins a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Tijuana border. The idea is to either kill the Mexicans once they reach California or simply expose their route - the movie is pretty foggy on this. But, naturally, the scheme goes awry and Fields is left high and dry with the other immigrants in a slave labor camp where he works in a meth lab and walks a mile in the shoes of his sworn enemies.

Fields gets a whole new perspective on the issue of illegal immigration. Would that that were the case for us in the audience. Subtle, it ain't. The film makes good on every bit of foreshadowing: When a worker in the meth lab gives a cautious lesson in cooking, ``You can't go over 150 degrees - if you do, boom, explosion,'' you can be sure that a ``boom, explosion'' will figure prominently in the upcoming action.

One need only look to Gregory Nava's classic ``El Norte'' to discover that illegal immigration can be dealt with with sensitivity and smarts. Nava's movie came out 21 years ago and has yet to be equaled. Let's hope another filmmaker will take up the mantle and leave the sloganeering to the politicians.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

THE GATEKEEPER - Two stars

(R: sexuality, drug content)

Starring: Juan Carlos Frey, Michelle Agnew.

Director: Juan Carlos Frey.

Running time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; Laemmle's Monica in Santa Monica.

In a nutshell: Heavy-handed message movie about the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants. Points for good intentions, but the subject deserves better.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 19, 2004
Words:492
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