‘Cellmates’ Movie Review – A Klansman As The Film’s Romantic Hero?!
As far as go-to villains go, you would be hard pressed to find one more reviled than a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Only in a quirky, crazy comedy like Cellmates, a film by the soon-to-be up-and-coming writer/director Jesse Baget, could a hardened Klansman not only become the film’s leading man, but its romantic hero.
In 1970’s Texas, Leroy Lowe (in a brilliant performance by Tom Sizemore) is sent to prison more for his hateful politics than anything else. When his fellow Klansman and cellmate suffers brain damage after choking on a piece of potato, Leroy is paired up with Emilio (Hector Jimenez), a wonderfully wacky Mexican field worker with a heart of gold.
At first, Leroy wants nothing to do with his new cellmate, but when during his weekly meetings with the prison warden, Merville (Stacy Keach), he catches the eye of a quiet, beautiful Mexican maid named Madalena (Olga Segura), Emilio becomes his only way of communicating with her. They pass letters back and forth with Emilio as their translator. Over time, a friendship develops between the two cellmates and Leroy begins to reconsider his very distorted view on the world and the people who share it with him.
I found this film absolutely delightful. It’s fresh and funny and very relevant, in particular the questions it brings up about immigration and bigotry. Sizemore and Jimenez have a natural comedic rapport and Stacy Keach absolutely threw himself into his role with gusto.
There are some serious issues presented in Cellmates, yet the movie is never bogged down by politics or messages. It takes place on a higher plane, a funnier plane. There are moments of over-the-top comedy which are then perfectly balanced by moments of quiet personal growth. Yes, the story is nutty and maybe even a touch unrealistic, but it never feels ridiculous.
This movie is an example of the power of small budget films. They don’t have the money or the limitations of the big studio juggernauts, so they can take chances, do things that are unexpected, and ultimately stay with us for a lot longer than the latest summer blockbuster.
Cellmates opens in limited release today, June 1st.