Producers: Adrian Durazo, Marla Arreola and Sarahi Castro Directors: Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler Screenplay: Zachary Cotler Cast: Jackson Rathbone, Esai Morales, Alex Menses, Xander Berkeley, Marisal Sacramento, Carmela Zumbado, Moisés Arias, Blake Lindsley and Mariel Hemingway Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
There’s a clever satirical conceit at the center of “The Wall of Mexico,” but it’s treated in so ponderous, pretentious and—especially at the end—preachy a fashion that the movie collapses under its own super-indulgent weight. It is nicely shot by cinematographer Lyn Moncrief on attractive locations and sumptuous sets prepared by production designer Tomas Owen, however, so as your mind wanders or you find yourself annoyed by the heaviness of it all, you can always just concentrate on appreciating the images.
Don Taylor (Jackson Rathbone) is a Floridian who has moved to the American Southwest, near the Mexican border, and taken a job on the grounds crew of the wealthy Arista family headed by demanding Henry (Esai Morales) and his wife Monica (Alex Menses). Don’s boss is Mike (Xander Berkeley), who’s been with the Aristas for decades and is both friendly and condescending to the newcomer.
Don finds his work watering plants and keeping up the grounds tolerable, but is perplexed by questions posed by folks in the nearby town, who ask about whether he drinks the water that the family takes from a special well on the estate; they drink it themselves and bottle some for sale. Otherwise they just use the regular town water. When the level in the well shows a sharp decline, Henry suspects the townspeople, who buy bottles of the water they believe has mystical properties, and gives Don the responsibility of keeping watch over the well at night.
That’s a job he dislikes, not only because it requires his hauling a lawn chair into the bushes and trying to stay awake, but because he’s become attracted to the extravagant all-night parties the two Arista girls—coquettish Tania (Marisal Sacramento) and intellectual Ximena (Carmela Zumbado)—have in the guesthouse with their friend, a slimy guy referred to as Cokestraw (Moisés Arias) for obvious reasons. Seductive Tania invites Don to join them, but her interest is sporadic, and when she turns him away he becomes surly.
Things get worse when a few townsmen are caught one night trying to siphon water from the well and the local cop (Blake Lindsley) declines to do much about it. Henry responds by building a wall around the estate and cutting off sales of the water to the town. The mayor (Mariel Hemingway) tries to persuade him to compromise, but to no avail. And Don, now persuaded the water does have amazing power, especially after Mike is dismissed on suspicion of stealing some, decides to sample it himself—an act that has consequences.
The reversal at the heart of the movie is obvious—the American townspeople, including Don, believe in some mystical power beyond a wall, here controlled by rich Mexicans (or, more properly, Mexican-Americans) who are denying them access to it for reasons of their own. It’s a promising premise, but played here in dirge-like style that reeks of phony profundity. The slow pacing sabotages the performances of Rathbone and Morales, both fine actors plagued by too many pregnant pauses in delivering their lines. Menses and Berkeley come off better but not by much. Sacramento and Zumbado fare reasonably well, but their scenes of languorous partying seem to go on forever, and Arias doesn’t help with his depiction of a seedy hedonist. Sacramento is also stuck with an explanation scene at the close that suggests the makers considered the viewers might be as dense as Don.
“The Wall of Mexico” might have been an engaging, thought-provoking take on the ideas behind Donald Trump’s controversial border wall. But a repetitive, self-important script, plodding direction by co-writer Zachary Cotler (who also composed the spare score) and equally deliberate editing by Gabriel Foster Prior make sitting through it a physical chore rather than an intellectual pleasure.