Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tortilla Heaven
Review by Sombrero Grande

Heed my words, good people, about Tortilla Heaven: sitting through this movie is about as far from Heaven a live soul can get. If “the Lord works in mysterious ways,” a line that is repeated over and over throughout the film, typically to gloss over plot holes, then surely Tortilla Heaven writer/director Judy Hecht Dumontet works in unskilled, unremarkable, mind-numbingly incompetent ways.

The story surrounds Isidor (José Zúñiga, who comes across as a kind of Raul Julia-lite), a non-church-going owner of a small restaurant in a tiny New Mexico town. The town has a population of only 73 and its roads aren’t even paved. Everyone knows everyone else in town and they all know that the best place to eat at is Isidor’s restaurant, Tortilla Heaven. Then one day, Jesus’ visage appears in a tortilla and suddenly everything goes crazy in this no-longer sleepy little town.

That storyline is the springboard into an excruciatingly inept film that appears like either a grossly overblown student film or a Hallmark movie of the week that just happens to feature swearing and nudity. Watching the story progress is like following the edge of a tortilla around in a circle; it just keeps going and going, never really gets anywhere and never ends up the least bit interesting.

The film not only insults the intelligence of the audience every step of the way (even the revealing of Jesus’ image in the tortilla is intercut with shots of a painting of Jesus--I guess the filmmakers thought we could use some help figuring out who’s face that was), but the sheer stupidity of the words uttered by the characters belies some sort of enraged hatred towards them by Dumontet. It’s supposed to be a town full of the eccentric characters, yet not a single one of them is anything but a bland two-dimensional shell for basic dialogue. For example, the mayor likes golf, so almost every line he has relates to wanting to build a golf course. Sheesh, Bumblebee Man and Disco Stu on The Simpsons sport more character development that any of these half-assed, tortilla-thin cut-out characters. And if you’re expecting any one of their go-nowhere side stories to reach anything remotely approaching a conclusion, or at the very least any sort of follow-up to their initial set-ups, you’re just plain out of luck.

The “villain” of the story, sleazy Gil Garcia (Miguel Sandoval), arrives in town as an outsider in a big, red, noisy truck with three bubble-gum popping city girls in the back. He arrives with a pocket full of contracts that promise Isidor big money and a chain of Tortilla Heaven restaurants just so long as he keeps alienating his friends and ruining everyone’s lives. The movie keeps hinting that Gil’s the devil, with the first word out of his mouth being “damn,” his frequent serpent-like gestures and, oddly enough, he even tosses a fireball at one point. Yet at the end of the film, as if to offer up one final “f*ck you” to any poor, bewildered soul that actually managed to watch this movie all the way to its end, Dumontet reveals that Gil is actually Jesus’ “representation” on Earth. Yes, Jesus Himself appears at the end of the movie, folks, (spoilers be damned) and Dumontet portrays him as clueless dope who appears aloof to Gil’s scheming ways and merely asserts that he wants a motorcycle the next time he comes to Earth.

The only laugh to be had in this “comedy” comes late in the film when the audience is shown an obviously hand-scrawled (in black marker!) construction company sign taped to the side of a bulldozer. Not since the paper star on the side of the sheriff’s car in the blaxploitation classic The Human Tornado has the world of cinema been subject to this level of production design, people.

Though the film appears to flirt with blasphemy as readily as the horny old woman it depicts licking the hand of the town priest as he presents her with a communion wafer, I have to admit I can imagine Tortilla Heaven being shown in Sunday School classrooms. Specifically it can be presented with such instruction as, “if you want to see what Hell is like, children, imagine a constant loop of this,” followed immediately by the teacher pressing play on the DVD player and averting her eyes.


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