Johnny 100 Pesos

Lawrence Russell

Johnny 100 Pesos, 1993 dir. Gustavo Graef-Marino writ. Gerardo Caceres and Graef-Marino cine. Jose Arredondo star. Armando Arriza (Johnny), Patricia Rivera (Gloria), Willy Semler, Luis Gnecco, Paulina Urrutia, Christian Campos

in the face of the deja vu

Early morning, Santiago, Chile S.A. A young mestizo rides in the back of a near empty bus clutching his school pack. He fumbles inside, discharges a pistol accidentally, the bullet ripping into the roof. The bus driver pulls over, advances down the aisle towards the "student", a large wrench in his meaty hand. The student pulls the automatic from his bag as he stumbles to the rear door, spews nervous obscenities as he threatens the driver, demands the door be opened. He jumps outside, runs across a dirt lot, gets lost in the shabby streets. He's wearing a blue suit which is supposed to be a school uniform but in fact is the costume of a wannabe gangster. This is "Johnny", later to be known as Johnny 100 Pesos.

Cut To: overhead shot of Johnny in a crowd crossing over the broad yellow slashes of a downtown crosswalk. He goes into a commercial highrise, rides the elevator to the eighth floor, goes down the corridor to door number 83. A seedy man views him through the fish-eye, asks what he wants. "To see some videos," says Johnny... and the man lets him in.

The video emporium is a front for a blackmarket currency exchange which is located behind a steel door at the back. Johnny is soon joined by three low-grade hoods and they proceed to blunder themselves into a robbery and hostage-taking that plays itself out on TV Sur -- just like one of the action videos in the store they are trapped in.

The film has a raw, melodramatic feel typical of Latino drama, and is quite funny despite the assurances that the story is taken from a "real" incident. Certainly it has the integrity of the real thing, as nothing in the action is impossible. Losers come, losers go, and our appetite for watching them lose seems bottomless, even if we close our eyes sometimes in the face of the deja vu.

The familiar is made somewhat strange by seeing a stock crime outside of the Hollywood context. None of the criminals has charisma... except Johnny, and his is of the simple sort, a boy trying to be a man. Or, as his love of the moment Gloria says, "A student pretending to be a thief."

Gloria is the familiar madonna-whore of the Latino fantasy. She's the business man's secretary and mistress, although in the end she's Johnny's whore and nobody's hostage. She's the last meal for the condemned, and when Johnny shags her on the floor of the can, he's only ten strokes from death.

The best incidents? Consider: when the robbers force their hostages to stand naked in the eighth floor window of the store in order to thwart the army assault team rappelling down from the roof... when TV Sur visits Johnny's mother and local thugs torch the TV van... when the robbers negotiate their surrender and swallow gold jewelry in order to have some tradable wealth for their days in prison. One realist swallows the video clerk's gold crucifix and chain, washes it down with corn oil while another gobbles a gold wedding band.

And Johnny? His confederates turn on him in contempt, force a hundred pesos into his mouth. They blame him for the failure of their heist, although their failure is in having no "Plan B". Absurdly, they ask for a plane to Cuba. In the end they leave cuffed, wearing black garbage bags.

Johnny leaves last, no longer a virgin, guns blazing. Suicide or machismo? You last see him lying in the back of an ambulance as it speeds through the city. He draws the white sheet slowly over his face to hide his shame or signal his fate.

It's got sex, it's got violence, it's got full-frontal nudity. It's funny, pathetic rather than criminal. It trades on documentary rather than plot, sentimentality rather than character.

© LR 5/99


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