A Day Without a Mexican

The main message behind Sergio Arau's A Day Without a Mexican is perfectly reasonable. People take for granted the work that Latinos, legal and illegal do. They do the work that others, for whatever reason, are unwilling to do. They harvest fruit, wash cars, clean buildings, and take care of people's children. Not only that, but they are teachers, doctors, and executives. In a place like California, they are the largest minority, and have a huge impact on the economy. So it's very unfortunate that Arau uses satire to get his point across. A Day Without a Mexican is based on Arau's 1998 short film of the same name. Taking it to full feature length draws all humor out of the story and makes the film look amateurish and stupid, which destroys any brownie points Arau had at the beginning of the film.

The premise here is that a mysterious cloud envelops California. Nobody inside the state can communicate with people outside. At the same time, all of the Latinos in the state mysterious disappear, causing mass chaos. Nobody appreciates Latinos until they are gone. That sounds like a funny premise, and within the confines of a short film can be. Instead, Arau (The Wall) keeps going. Most of the story is from Lila Rodriguez's (Yareli Arizmendi, El Grito, Shadow Hours) perspective. She is apparently the only Latino remaining in California. She is a reporter, and the story eventually becomes her. Arau, who co-wrote the film with Arizmendi (who is also his wife) and Sergio Guerrero (who is not his wife) also shift the focus to Senator Abercrombie (John Getz, Held for Ransom, Some Girl), once virulently anti-immigration, and Mary Jo Quintana (Maureen Flannigan, Written in Blood, Goodbye America), whose husband and son are among the missing. Quintana's story is by far the most emotional, but Arau then interjects with dopey scenes involving the border guard.

Arau also makes some amusing observations on the vapidity of local news, especially in California. But MAD TV did the same thing years ago. His funniest observation is that some people think that all Latinos are "Mexicans," regardless of the fact that there are a whole lotta countries south of Mexico. Arau then will scrawl some facts pertaining to Latinos across the screen, which, instead of educating the viewer gives A Day Without a Mexican a distinctly preachy view. The acting is also all over the place. Muse Watson (Wild Turkey, American Outlaws) is good as a Central Valley farmer who lost his friend and a significant amount of his workforce, but Bru Miller (Trust, Maxwell) is downright annoying as cardboard as his immigrant-hating son. All of the border guards are buffoonish, and Arizmendi has to suffer through some bad monologues to the camera.

The frustrating aspect of A Day Without a Mexican is that Arau never explains what happened. If he is going to make such a big deal out of this mysterious fog and the fact that thousands, if not millions of people are missing, then he should have thought out the resolution of his story better. He bombards the screen with images of the fog, then never gives adequate explanation about what happened. The film takes place over what seems like days or even weeks, and one would think that panic would break out, not because all the Latinos are missing, but because there is no communication. Instead, he shows comedic images of people fighting at car washes. Yes, people depend on Latinos for a lot of manual labor, but not everybody is inept.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for language and brief nudity.

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