- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

''Pinero" may impress generous viewers as a tour de force for actor Benjamin Bratt, who plays the titlerole with undeniable dedication.
But the coherence of this movie's scenario proves chronically iffy. The film serves as a diffuse biographical homage to the late Puerto Rican felon-poet-playwright-actor Miguel Pinero, evidently "Mikey" to his New York City intimates.
Mr. Bratt alters his appearance from the impeccably groomed and manicured to the complacently seedy and bohemian as he insinuates himself into the identity of the self-styled artistic desperado, circa 1970s and 1980s.
Of course, such a change can be a satisfying masquerade for an actor. Denzel Washington must have had a whale of a time accentuating the corrupt and diabolical in "Training Day." Mr. Bratt gets a low-budget holiday with depravity when he plays Pinero, whose various addictions led to his early demise from cirrhosis of the liver in 1988, at age 40.
Written and directed by Leon Ichaso, who knew the subject to some extent, "Pinero" is all over the place chronologically and stylistically. As a character study, it never wanders far from slightly evasive adulation. The story dotes on Pinero as an ethnic celebrity of New York in the late 1970s in the aftermath of his prison play "Short Eyes," which was launched by Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre. But it also tries to avoid blanket endorsements of his promiscuity, criminality and dissipation.
The Ichaso chronicle introduces Pinero in Sing Sing, where he first practices recitation and salesmanship on fellow inmates and a parole board. The Papp years are sketched in without much attention to the backstage work involved in realizing "Short Eyes." Mandy Patinkin makes cameo appearances as Mr. Papp, acting either the proud patron or injured, fuming patron.
According to this account, Pinero and a crony celebrated opening night by stealing furs from a couple of women. You're left with the curious impression that this might have been a better show than the one at the Public. At any rate, the author seems to find petty crime more diverting than a triumphant opening night.
It's also possible that sequences are juxtaposed for exaggerated contrasts that have little to do with biographical continuity. The presentation itself fluctuates from footage in 16mm black-and-white to color digital video. Mr. Ichaso lifts dialogue from certain plays and transposes it to episodes that appear to be happening far off the stage. The harmonies he perceives in such techniques aren't necessarily apparent to noninitiates in the life and legend of Pinero.
Pinero boyhood episodes highlight Rita Moreno as a hardworking single mother who dotes on Miguel, portrayed as a youth by Gilbert Collazo. Evidently, the son nurses a permanent grievance against the father, who is depicted as having abandoned his wife and children. Jaime Sanchez, who played Angel of "The Wild Bunch" 33 years ago, turns up as this apologetic figure in the days of Pinero's fame, mutely appealing for Mikey's forgiveness and receiving only his contempt. I don't know if all of this is meant to account for the bisexual drift in Pinero's love life.
Talisa Soto is hard to overlook as a volptuous hooker called Sugar, who persistently tries and fails to make an honest man of her beloved Mikey.
The Hollywood phase of Pinero's career, which involved writing and acting jobs in a few movies and TV shows during the early 1980s, notably "Miami Vice," appears to have been a potential budget breaker for Mr. Ichaso. The filmmaker glides over that professional chapter and in doing so may shortchange spectators hoping for at least shreds of nostalgic dirt about Don Johnson and friends.
Ultimately, the movie is content to embrace Pinero as a parochial favorite, a lost boy of the Lower East Side, without clarifying what his finished work might have meant to the popular culture at large. The implicit verdict is that the Pinero "moment" was pretty fleeting and might be desperate for staying power a generation later. Unless, I suppose, Mr. Bratt adds a glamour that never belonged to Pinero himself.
A belated memorial gesture, "Pinero" is unlikely to stir much curiosity beyond the original set of admirers and mourners.
RATING: R (Frequent profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Leon Ichaso. Cinematography by Claudio Chea.
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide