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Review: Cellmates

'A comedy about racism is one thing, but a comedy about a Ku Klux Klan hate criminal learning a valuable lesson?'

 

Cellmates opens June 1 in New York and L.A., one theater each. The first feature of Jesse Baget (his prior film, being 75 minutes long, avoids the “feature” distinction) stars Tom Sizemore in a comedy about KKK racism. It will not surprise anyone that this movie is not good, and given the cursory release it would just be unfair and mean to bash it. I only saw it for the interview with Sizemore, so this review should be taken as the constructive criticism Baget may be able to use to improve his subsequent films.

Grand Dragon Leroy Lowe (Sizemore) gets sentenced to a prison work farm. Stacey Keach plays the potato farming warden. After Lowe’s cohort Bubba (Kevin Farley) is injured and transferred, Leroy is stuck with Emilio (Hector Jimenez) for a cellmate. When Leroy hits it off with the warden’s cleaning lady Madalena (Olga Segura), he needs Emilio to translate the Spanish language letters she writes him. This series of events is sure to soften Leroy’s racist heart.

I know what you’re thinking. This premise seems doomed from the start. A comedy about racism is one thing, but a comedy about a Ku Klux Klan hate criminal learning a valuable lesson? I actually admire the balls to combine an unlikely genre with an unlikely topic. Hell, Life is Beautiful was a holocaust comedy! I just think maybe Baget should have waited until he developed his craft before attempting something so ambitious.

The comedy is very broad slapstick, using basic camera tricks with which first timers usually experiment. Footage is sped up, angles are cartoonish and the actors are directed to be very big, with shifty eyes and blustering, slobbering monologues. A more nuanced approach might have sold the concept better, but then you still have KKK guy on a potato farm learning tolerance from the sidekick in Nacho Libre.

Hollywood loves a comeback. Obviously the only real draw to this film would be Sizemore. Can he be in movies again, let alone carry one? Probably, and more power to any indie production for giving him the chance. This isn’t the big comeback, though he does deliver what the part requires and the movie got finished, presumably incident-free.

Baget is doing fine. His next film, Wild Side, has Nicolas Cage, Juno Temple and Johnny Knoxville. I’ll see anything with Cage and actually I can imagine Baget letting him go even crazier than Neveldine/Taylor did. So I’m there.

Cellmates falls under my category of “not a real movie.” I don’t mean it’s just an indie movie, but rather that it’s more like a project that no one is honestly expected to watch. The premise, the tone, the quality, the cast whose most distinguished members still aren’t leads with a fan base per se, it was an experiment and now it exists. Two screens and then late night on Comedy Central. No one’s really expected to see it. Frankly, I don’t imagine anybody is going to believe me when I describe this to them.