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No Man's Land

Title: No Man's Land

Describe This Movie In One "If I Can Find A Clean Shirt" Lyric:

WILLIE & WAYLON: No I ain't going down on the border with you tonight.
Brief Plot Synopsis: "El Hombre del Rio Nevado."

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film:  2 Phil Hicks out of 5.

Tagline: "The only way back is to cross the line."

Better Tagline: "Hey, Mexicans are people too."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Being stuck between the Rio Grande and the fence line marking the official U.S. border means the Greer family has to deal with a lot, from illegals crossing their land to the indifference of the American government. When dad Bill (Frank Grillo) and sons Lucas and Jackson (Jake Allyn) head south to retrieve lost cattle while "Shepherd” Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez) is leading a group of migrants (including his two sons) north, things take a tragic turn, forcing big league baseball prospect Jackson to flee into Mexico.

"Critical" Analysis: Lot of recent movies focusing on the U.S.-Mexico border lately, for some reason.

Unlike flicks like The Marksman, Sicario, or even Sin Nombre,  No Man's Land presents us with the somewhat novel concept of an American traveling south into Mexico. It's a mildly interesting idea, bolstered somewhat by the supporting performances, but dragged down by a bland lead and predictable outcome.

The "no man's land" here refers to the area between the Rio Grande and the fence line marking the "official" border. It's where the Greers' ranch has ended up when all is said and done. Bill Greer (Frank Grillo), the patriarch, is matter-of-fact about the situation, while mom Monica (Andie McDowell) is more anxious about the situation. This is mostly out of concern for her sons.

But there's no real indication that Jackson or any of the family harbor any animosity toward the immigrants who regularly cross their land. They aren't happy about the fence cutting, but Bill appears more angry with the government that put him on the outside of the fence to begin with.

This outlook recalls another, better border work: Lonesome Dove. In fact, it's on a trip across the river to recover stray cattle — not unlike Gus and Call's — that results in Fernando's death and Lucas's grave injury. It's also where the tone shifts and the action moves on the Jackson.

Which is harder to believe: that a kid with a chance at a roster spot with a Major League club would abandon them so easily? Or that the same kid grew up mere yards from the border and never learned a lick of Spanish.

In spite of that unlikely latter handicap, Jackson makes his way south and — after an unfortunate encounter with a group of human coyotes — enjoys the hospitality of a rancher and his family. Before you can say "Clancy" he's breaking a tempestuous colt and falling for the rancher's daughter Victoria (Esmeralda Pimentel).

Sort of. No Man's Land is chaste almost to a fault.

After this frankly meandering interlude, reality intrudes once more. Allyn is an affable enough dude, but isn't capable of conveying the breadth of emotion the role requires. His quest for redemption boils mostly down to a confrontation apparent from the first act, and his slowly emerging fascination at how humane everybody is down yonder gets old quickly. At least Allyn eschews the sepia tint so often favored for south of the border settings.

High points? Juan Pablo Ramírez's cinematography renders southern Texas/northern Mexico as desolately beautiful as ever. George Lopez playing it straight as a Texas Ranger (inspiring a great line of dialogue: "That's still a thing?") Jimenez and Grillo capture their respective side of the fence dad roles, and the former shares a moment in a hospital elevator, which can be summed up as, "Parenting, right?"

Conor Allyn has made an ambitious, if uneven film. There's a definite "faith-based lite" feeling at play, which makes you wonder how much the script changed from inception. Like The Marksman before it, however, it zags when you think it's going to zig. Also like that movie, unfortunately, it doesn't have a hell of a lot that's original to say.

No Man's Land is in select theaters and streaming On Demand today.