Mark McGraw is the brother to singer/actor Tim McGraw (Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side). He's the son of former Phillies pitcher and sports anchor Tug McGraw. In this film, Mark McGraw plays Christopher Fox, a tall, handsome, fair-haired stranger who meets the love of his life, a young Hispanic woman named Isabel, on a subway train in South Philadelphia.
Dani Garza plays Isabel Moreno, an immigrant on the run who's separated from her family after coming to this country illegally. Isabel stays with her cousin while she works as a maid in order to save money to send back to her sick mother. She hopes to find a way to remain in the United States and make it her permanent home.
Writer-director Violet Mendoza doesn't really make this movie about illegal immigration. It's more of an undercurrent that actually becomes a red herring to a drug trafficking plot. The film is more of a modern-day West Side Story minus the singing and dancing. Except, Mendoza and her team do pepper the soundtrack with a good mix of songs from Philadelphia or nearby artists like Natalie Walker, Peter Tramo and Papa Midnight.
Mendoza, the first-time filmmaker, paints suspicion around Christopher. After he meets Isabel, he leads her to believe he works with children when, in actuality, Christopher is an immigrations agent. Almost immediately, the question arises if Christopher is using Isabel or if he truly loves her. At the same time, Christopher is accused of selling dope via the illegal immigrants he chases.
The audience is led to wonder if Christopher is a good guy or a bad guy. The answer is rather obvious. Mendoza doesn't do such a great job of obfuscation, but McGraw has an early Jack Nicholson charm that could easily toe the line between good guy and bad guy.
Mendoza is perhaps too heavy-handed with her filmmaking. For example, that initial subway meeting between Christopher and Isabel is very lovey-dovey. The music is obvious, and the editing back-and-forth is clearly if not overly sentimental. Mendoza might as well have have just written in big, bold letters across the screen, "These two will fall in love."
Mendoza lays it on thick during a scene where the two walk through a garden. She throws in the line, "Do you believe in love at first sight?" What follows is a sugary montage that douses the acting of the two with high fructose corn syrup. Yes, it's sweet. Yes, it's beautiful. Subtlety is not Mendoza's specialty.
Minor script problems forces a feeling of awkwardness in the narrative flow. For example, Christopher meets Isabel on a train, yet later we see him driving a SUV. So, why was he even taking the subway to begin with and where exactly was he going? Isabel's cousin gets arrested, but what was it that tipped off the feds? What did her cousin do that led the cops straight to his door? The immigrations agents claim to have been watching Christopher for a while, yet they form the completely wrong conclusions about him at the end. Why?
Nevertheless, there were some standout supporting characters who were inhabited by actors whom I'd love to see in their own starring roles. John D'Alonzo who plays Christopher's friend and fellow agent, Gene, gives a noteworthy performance. Gene is a concerned yet slightly corrupt cop and D'Alonzo portrays that effectively.
Barret Mindell co-stars as Peter, the sexy yet frustrated youth. He's cocky and playful, but Mindell has to deliver an impassioned monologue that captures the rage of hard-working immigrants who don't feel wanted or accepted. It sets up the fall of his character and Mindell handles it very well. Mindell has a small role in the Oscar-winning film Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push" By Sapphire. I hope to see more of him.
Three Stars out of Five Rated R for strong language Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.