The low-budget boxing feature "Chamaco" never takes the gloves off, keeping it real while keeping it safe. It aims for urban street grit with the same energy it aims for ingratiating, achingly predictable melodrama. Once it whacks and chops through a thicket of sports-as-salvation clichés, a small, passionate film emerges, yet one whose debt to a dozen other movies is inescapable. The movie closes the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival on Thursday at the Alamo South.
"Chamaco" translates to "the kid." That kid is Abner (Álex Perea), a teenager in Mexico City entertaining dreams of professional fighting. But he's encircled by stock types, exaggerated obstacles to his goals: a drug-addict girlfriend, a prostitute sister and a violently abusive father.
Abner finds sanctuary in the local gym, where his talent is noticed but unappreciated. Abner gets a lucky break when his sister starts dating an American pro fighter named Jimmy (Kirk Harris, who co-wrote the screenplay), whom she persuades to train her brother.
Jimmy's father is a local doctor (Martin Sheen, who out-acts everyone), and they're having poppa-son problems. Dad wants Jimmy to stop fighting professionally before he gets brain damaged. But they work it all out with hugs and smiles when Jimmy turns to training the lost Abner.
Director Miguel Necoechea does what he can with a scrawny story pocked with dangling plot lines and half-drawn characters. When someone takes a bullet it's not alarming, it's just confusing. In a story clinging to coherence, seeing Michael Madsen in a bit part as Jimmy's manager is all the more distracting.
`Chamaco' screens at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo South as part of the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival. Director Miguel Necoechea and producer Don Franken will be in attendance.
Cine Las Americas International Film Festival
The 13th annual festival boasts 100-plus features, shorts and documentaries from more than 20 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Cuba, Peru and Chile.
When: Through April 29
Where: Metropolitan (901 Little Texas Ln.), Alamo South (1120 S. Lamar Blvd.) and the Mexican American Cultural Center (600 River St.)
Cost: Closing night tickets are $10; single tickets for all other screenings are $6 and $8 and can be bought at the box office or online at www.cinelasamericas.org; festival passes are $70 and grant access to all screenings, special events and after parties.
Information and ticket purchases: www.cinelasamericas.org.