Greetings from the Edge!
This week on the Edge, the narcos go high-tech in Cartel 2045. In the near future, the border city of Juarez is overrun with war droids under the control of Cartel headman Angel Malvado ( played by Danny Trejo ) and it’s up to our intrepid Marines to shut his operation down.
Starring Danny Trejo as Angel Malvado, warbot commanding kingpin of Juarez, Brad Schmidt as Carson Wright, former Marine experiment and current prisoner, Adam Scorgie as A.D.A.M., a Marine A.I. and all around helpful program ( he won’t even try finishing your search queries before you’re done typing! ), Oscar Olivares as Gabriel Malvado, Angel Malvado’s son with something to prove, and Chris Persky as Estevan Flores, the captive roboticist at the crux of the whole conflict.
Cartel 2045 opens on a newscast detailing a massacre carried out by A.I. soldiers in Iran and then cutting to another story detailing the use of the same style of androids by Mexican narco gangs to take over the border town of Juarez ( In fact, the original title of the film was Juarez 2045. )
Then we fade over to El Paso, Texas, where former Marine Carson Wright is being incarcerated. He is offered a deal to get out of the rest of his sentence ( after being beaten, because you really want to beat someone up before sending them on a mission. ) After we’re given some backstory, Carson agrees to go to Juarez to retrieve a scientist that may be behind the narcos’ use of military grade war robots. Now Carson has to survive not only the cartel and their androids but the malfunctioning chip in his head that got him imprisoned in the first place. Can he do it, or will Danny Trejo win and conquer not only Juarez, but all of Mexico like we all want anyway? Go Danny!
I’ll take a minute to talk about the effects in Cartel 2045. Well, it’s kind of a mixed bag, really. Compared to the effects in some of the other Uncork’d productions I’ve seen, they’re a step above. Which, sadly, isn’t saying much, but with a grindhouse style film like this, you’re not looking to be dazzled by effects but entertained by them. Either by their awfulness or by their surprising ingenuity.
Lets just say that the budget ( or lack thereof ) is really on display whenever the war robots come on-screen. They don’t appear to actually be part of the same world as the rest of the characters, seemingly floating on top of the film. I will say that the choice to use a filter on the film to give it the appearance of old movie scratches and distortion does a bit to hide the cheapness of the cinematography and the lack of meshing with the other special effects.
Cartel 2045 makes some good use of drone shots to simulate helicopter or crane shots, although by the relative unsteadiness of the footage, you can clearly tell it’s a drone shot. However, I have to applaud the director for varying up his cinematography a bit and, once again, the choice to use an old style film filter helps cover a multitude of sins. Although sometimes the filter gets a little thick, especially when the picture is already pretty dark.
I think the only thing that really bugged me effects wise was the fact that the firearms are clearly never actually firing. I know that digitally inserting shot effects later is faster and probably safer, but unless a lot of care is taken, the actors just end up looking like they’re shaking their guns like idiots. I miss blood squibs, the CGI blood effects are singularly unconvincing. How hard is it to use a little actual fake blood instead of having what looks like a digital sneeze on the film?
I have to say that one of the things that sprung strongly to mind watching Cartel 2045 is that the director ( who is also the writer ) must really have liked Chappie. In fact, it felt a bit like Escape from L.A. ( sorry, it just doesn’t rate Escape from New York ) mixed liberally with Chappie. Y’know, minus the introspection on the soul of A.I. or Bruce Campbell ( man, who wouldn’t want to see Bruce Campbell versus Danny Trejo! )
Sadly, the action and pacing are both really spotty in Cartel 2045. In one baffling scene, the climax with Danny Trejo is interrupted so one of the background marines can have a martial arts fight with a random narco soldier. Not only does it slow the climax down, but it seems entirely irrelevant to the ending of the film. Padding out the run time, maybe?
Instances like that and, frankly, a lot of unfunny jokes drag down what could have been a fun and schlocky little piece of faux-grindhouse cinema.
In the end, I just can’t give Cartel 2045 my recommendation. It has some moments and, with the right friends, it could make for some fun and funny riffing fodder, but standing alone, it just doesn’t have enough to be worth your time. Maybe if Danny Trejo had a bigger part or if the intentional humor had been a little more bearable.
If you really want to see something with androids, organized crime, and gold-plated AK-47’s, try Chappie instead… although I’m not a big fan of that film, either. Hell, take a trip down memory lane and give Runaway ( 1984 ) with Tom Selleck a try. It’s got Gene Simmons as the bad guy, heat seeking gyro-jet bullets, and some very realistic robots… well, besides the acidic venom-spewing robo-spiders!
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
At first I thought there was something wrong with the audio on the screener I was reviewing until I figured out that they added in some audio scratches and pops to go with the old ’60s/’70s movie filter they were using for the rest of the film. Considering how many of those movies I watched growing up, I have to say it’s a nice touch.
Early on in the movie, there is a scene of an android cutting off one of the narco prisoners’ heads with a machete. Not much is shown ( and the actor playing the prisoner is pretty damned unconcerned for someone about to be decapitated ) but it is surprisingly effective at showing the inhumanity of both the narcos and the war robots.
I also love how hiding behind a dumpster or wooden packing crate is apparently adequate protection from sustained fire from what must be a twenty-millimeter Vulcan mini-cannon mounted on Danny Trejo’s giant mech suit during the climax. Maybe he was using paintball rounds?
Make sure you come back next week for more filmatic foolery, movie malice, and cinematic salaciousness here on the Edge!