‘Baja’ a cute magical fantasy escape adventure film with no downside (like life!)
A scene from the upcoming film, Baja, in theaters April 13. | Courtesy Baja Movie LLC

During Christmas break, four 22 year-olds from the possibly fictional city of Santa Teresa, California (though a section of San José does also bear that name) depart on a Mexican road trip seemingly bound for disaster (the expression “What could go wrong?” comes to mind). On their way down to Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Baja California, careening along in Bryan’s parents’ half-million-dollar RV as monstrous as a city bus, they run into criminals and prostitutes, gangsters and thieves, drunks, hustlers, visionary appearances in the sky, and a local curandero shaman.

Each of the attractive four—two young men and two young women, two blonds and two brunettes—carries their share of burdens, but it’s a cute romantic comedy, so it all ends with everyone and everything unexpectedly redeemed by a series of miraculous cartoon-like events. Maybe they’ve learned a little something about life; or maybe they’ve just turned their magical experience to profitable advantage. “Montezuma’s revenge” is nowhere in sight.

Everyone has their own agenda: The much put-upon nerdy Bryan (Jake Thomas) just wants to please his über-bourgeois parents by driving the Colossus down to Cabo by New Year’s Day so they can drive it back, and maybe get a little loco in Mexico to loosen up (and get laid). His friend Todd (Chris Brochu) has just about run out his trust fund and is looking for a little adventure (and to get laid). Todd persuades their two friends to travel with them: Lisa Bolanos (Arienne Mandi), a Latina obsessed with the late Mexican diva Lorena de los Ríos and suffering at home with a demanding sickly mother. Lisa wants to see if she can track down her absent father (José Zúñiga) in Baja. And there’s Jessica (Michelle DeShon) a filmmaking student with an assignment to come up with an extraordinary film short over the school break, who figures the whales off of Baja would make an exciting project.

Once they cross the border, they run into the Cervantes-reading prostitute Carmen (Zoe Corraface), the suave guapo (that means “handsomísimo) gangster Jorge (Andres Londono) and his shabby drunkard American ex-pat sub-agent Burnout (Jason Spisak), and the road comedy is off and rolling. (We never see them doing anything so mundane as gassing up the RV, however.) Mark Margolis plays the curandero spiritual healer role of Don Primo.

A scene from the upcoming film, Baja, in theaters April 13. | Courtesy Baja Movie LLC

In a director’s statement made available to the press, Tony Vidal, who also wrote and produced, admits to loving “road trips and road trip movies. I also have a fascination with RVs, Mexico, and the transition into adulthood by people in their early 20s. All of this is dealt with in Baja.”

Among the most beloved Mexican actors is José Sefami, who appears here as Alejandro, the lovable manager of the serene La Perla hotel where the merry wanderers wind up. But his, like so many others, is a somewhat stereotypical role. The problem is the “gaze”: Who is making this film about whom and for whom? Vidal answers that question in this way:

“I want the audience to smile and laugh a lot while viewing Baja. To me, laughter is healing. I want the audience to nod in recognition as they recognize themselves in the characters, and share in their journey.

“I want them to feel uplifted. I also want the audience to be charmed and awed by the beauty of Mexico, and to consider there may be more to Mexico, and life, than they once imagined.”

Jorge Roman, one of the leading directors of photography in Mexico with over 150 movie credits over the past twenty years, worked on this film. The Baja scenery is indeed a spectacular contrast of clean ocean water against dry, mountainous desert land. Viewers who can’t get enough of such panoramas will enjoy a vicarious revisit in Baja. Indeed, the cinematography may be one of the most successful elements of the film.
But do not expect to see many real Mexicans, and certainly not their issues, problems or concerns. Baja offers a Mexico strictly for tourists. It’s far more telling about North American values of waste and excess, symbolized by the way-over-the-top Colossus and its owners.

Even the score, by Music Supervisor Greg Landau, who specializes in producing Latin music, and his composer nephew Camilo Landau, is a picture postcard soundtrack. The film goes out with a song called “I Love You More Than Tacos.” How much more need be said? If Taco Bell is your idea of dining (and it is for some), you’ll likely enjoy this movie tremendously. If your tastes are more refined, you’ll find Baja mildly amusing as a date movie but forgettable.

The trailer can be viewed hereBaja starts screening in theaters April 13th.
Baja
Written, produced and directed by Tony Vidal
2018, 106 minutes
PG-13


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

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