Eric Roberts has been toiling away on the straight-to-video shelf for far too long, as he proves so well in La Cucaracha, a sunbaked Western noir set in Santiago, Mexico. He plays a perpetually soused would-be author escaping an imagined past of murder and mayhem, writing letters in his head that he'll never send and pondering the novel he'll never write. Roused from his inebriation by an epigram-spouting American, he's haplessly enlisted to assassinate a killer for a local drug lord (Joaquim de Almeida). Damned if he does and doomed if he doesn't, he miraculously survives and crawls from a shallow grave: "If I didn't have such a good survival instinct I would have killed myself long ago." Crippled but spurred by his newfound raison d'ętre--revenge!--he celebrates his self-discovery by munching defiantly on a cockroach. But not the cockroach of the title. That honor goes to Roberts, a scurrying little survivor who scuttles along desert roads in his beat-up wheelchair.
The picture tries too hard to strike a deadpan vein of dark humor and too often lets itself get lost in unnecessary details and side alleys, but the world of adobe buildings and dusty streets is like a film noir by Sergio Leone, full of blood-red sunsets and humid nights. Roberts always strikes the right balance of determination, desperation, and futility, never really winning but, like the cockroach, managing to survive underfoot. --Sean Axmaker
Savagery, betrayal, and revenge govern the desolate landscape of Perez's (THE BIG EMPTY) third film, a haunting, character-driven neo-noir spiked with black comedy. American ex-patriot Walter Pool is a broken man living in obscurity in a dusty tin shack on the edge of Santiago, Mexico. Writer's block prevents him from finishing -- or starting -- his novel, and alcoholism keeps him trapped in a nightmarish mire of dementia and squalor. Convinced he can sink no lower, he's resigned to waste away, imprisoned by the demons of his past. But when a mysterious stranger offers him $100,000 to settle a score with an alleged rapist, Pool is given a reason to live -- if it doesn't kill him. Winner of the Feature Film Award at the 1998 Austin Film Festival.
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