Benjamin Bratt gives a flashy title performance in Leon Ichaso’s impressionistic biography of Miguel Pinero, the ex-con Nuyorican playwright, actor and poet whose drug habit and reckless style of life led to his early demise. Bratt, whom most viewers will know from his matinee-idol good looks in “Law and Order” and “Miss Congeniality,” here boasts a scruffy beard and a down-and-dirty persona in a turn which is technically assured, if ultimately not fully convincing– at times it bears all the hallmarks of a performer trying desperately to “stretch.”
Bratt is, moreover, one of the few impressive elements in “Pinero,” which as a treatment of a painful artistic life falls midway between Julian Schnabel’s two similar works–last year’s superb “Before Night Falls” (which dealt with Reinaldo Arenas) and 1996’s much less successful “Basquiat.” Ichaso’s script meanders rather badly, failing to offer much explanation for the protagonist’s attitudes (other than the obvious one about his abandonment by his father) and occasionally falling into what in a Hollywood picture would be immediately recognized as schmaltzy cliche (the portrayal of Pinero’s mother by Rita Moreno, complete with some truly heavy-handed dialogue, or the death scene of one of his friends). Nor does it do very much to clarify the chronology of Pinero’s life–the deliberately lackadaisical, almost improvisational approach occasionally achieves striking moments, but mostly seems more flat and redundant.
Even more serious a defect is the doubt about whether a figure like Pinero is truly worth such extended treatment. This is a fellow, after all, who produced only one major work (the Tony- winning prison play “Short Eyes,” which was made into a film in 1977–the writer has a small role in it). His poetry–from the snippets of it included in the film–seems today like distinctly second-rate stuff, interesting perhaps for what it says about the milieu in which it was composed but not very good in itself; and the fact that he wrote for TV series like “Miami Vice,” “Kojak” and “Baretta” doesn’t add much to his resume. His limited talent, and the contemptible way in which he seems to have treated his friends, go far to explain why he eventually fell out with such acquaintances as teacher Miguel Algarin (Giancarlo Esposito), playwright Reinaldo Povod (Michael Irby) and producer Joe Papp (Mandy Patinkin); by the end of “Pinero,” the viewer will probably be pretty tired of him, too.
So the film serves well enough as a showcase for Bratt’s efforts to expand into character roles, but otherwise it’s not terribly revealing. Those interested in its subject would do better to seek out Robert Young’s filmization of the writer’s play, which retains considerable punch even after a quarter-century has passed.