If there were a Spanish-language edition of the Lifetime Network, this well-meaning movie from Peter and Benjamin Bratt would fit snugly into its schedule. As a theatrical release, however, “La Mission” is a bit out of its league.
The picture is moralistic tale about the need to overcome the mindless machismo prevalent in some traditional communities. Bratt stars as Che Rivera, an ex-con widower and recovering alcoholic living in a house converted into an apartment building in San Francisco’s Mission district. He drives a bus while bringing up his son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a high school senior and honor student planning to go to UCLA. Che holds onto his past—symbolized by the coterie of boyhood pals who gather in his garage and his devotion to his low-rider car, his pride and joy (second only to his son, of course).
But Che’s stable world collapses when he learns that Jes is gay—something his macho code won’t allow him to accept. He virtually disowns the boy and tries to derail his romance with a rich white kid (Max Rosenak) even after a local homophobic bully targets them.
A further wrinkle is added to Che’s transformation by the arrival of Lena (Erika Alexander), a sensitive new neighbor who helps him overcome his tendency to solve problems with force and see that violence is no answer and prejudice is a destructive habit.
“La Mission” is obviously heavy with messages, but it’s good-hearted and sincere and creates a strong sense of place. Bratt delivers a richly textured star turn, Alexander makes a warm foil, and Valdez combines strength and vulnerability as Jes. Some of the youngsters who play his classmates come across as amateurish, but the fellows who portray Che’s buddies—starting with Jesse Borrego as his more mellow chum—make an amusing lot, even if their banter often seems more sitcom scripted than natural. The picture also takes advantage of the San Francisco locations, with Hiro Harita’s cinematography capturing them without prettification.
This is a picture that might be more at home on cable than in theatres. But its good intentions will probably win you over in either setting.