Jumping the Fence

Part mockery of the American immigration system, part impassioned plea to fix it, Born in East L.A. takes its shots at the racism inherent of those put in charge. Merely look at Born in East L.A.’s story: Cheech Marin, American born and English-speaking, is packed together with a crew of illegal Mexican factory workers by deportation officials. Soon, he’s in Mexico with no way home.

It’s simple, and not implausible. According to Marin, Born in East L.A.’s origin is that of a depressing true life story of an autistic child sent down to Mexico by biased agents. All of Born in East L.A.’s police sneer at the Spanish-speaking populace (Jan Michael Vincent particularly fearsome in a cameo role as sheriff). No one seems to notice or care for Marin’s perfect English.

Born in East L.A. primarily cobbles together a slew of skits and sketches. It’s threadbare. The best material happens in L.A., with Marin’s non-English speaking cousin Javier (Paul Rodriguez) convinced a portrait of Jesus is speaking to him. That’s great, creating a clever dichotomy since it’s Javier who was supposed to be in the immigration raid; neither cousin feels comfortable in their situations. The stuff with Marin… not as funny, yet saved by an earnest attempt to depict how broken this system is.

Marin’s coarse comedic charms make Born in East L.A. digestible

There’s the relevance of this distinctly ‘80s comedy here in 2019. Some homophobic gags and sexism don’t make a case, but there’s Marin, furious over the problem of mistaken identity while a disinterested border cop eye rolls through the conversation. That feels prescient. And although there’s little to no plot in Born in East L.A., there’s still relief in seeing an entire hill covered by impoverished migrants, rushing past two terrified, racist border agents as the finale kicks off. Something worked prior if that rush of adrenaline is translated to an audience.

Down in Mexico, Marin must make do, performing side jobs for a shifty bar owner named Jimmy (Daniel Stern). Marin’s goal? Securing enough cash to pay off those willing to make an illegal border crossing. An hour of this 80-minute comedy is spent showing the entire side industry (or even industries) profiting from desperation. It’s depressing to consider. Marin’s coarse comedic charms make it all digestible though – and without losing the point – even if the slow boil humor is only 50/50 in its success.

Video

The Blu-ray release joins a couple of Cheech & Chong outings on the format, one also from Shout Factory. Born in East L.A. is not a recipient of a new master though. This one looks vault fresh, grimy, dirty, and missing that extra layer of care.

It’s acceptable, if not much else. Chunky grain indicates an older master, as does the lacking sharpness. Middling detail continues throughout. Burned-in subtitles add to the messiness, but that’s the nature of the process. Expect a mild uptick over previous presentations.

There’s a winner here and that’s color. While hardly natural, the hefty saturation still makes an attractive presence. Reds blossom and green fields leading toward the border push brightness. That’s the highlight of a so-so transfer.

Audio

Pure ‘80s sax features in the score for this comedy. That sounds great from this DTS-HD mono mix. Born in East L.A. isn’t adventurous with the audio, with typically dry-sounding dialog of the period and a few “live” concerts that capture the few instruments cleanly.

Like the video, this never rises over a standard case of ‘80s audio. Any audible attempt to perk things up doesn’t come through. Untouched, but pure.

Extras

Shout brings in a trio of cast members to feature in new interview segments. Cheech Marin is the longest, running 31-minutes with some great stories of his first writer/actor/director role. Paul Rodriguez and Kamala Lopez have their segments run 14-minutes each.

A TV cut of Born in East L.A. is offered, running about eight minutes longer based mostly on the ending that makes more sense of the final frames. Sadly, this is only an SD master, but better than not having it all. Over the main theatrical version, Marin joins with historian Marc Edward for a commentary and they have fun with the material.

A stills gallery and interesting production notes scroll by in the final menu option.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Born in East L.A.
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Cheech Marin writes, directs, and stars in Born in East L.A., a purely ’80s comedy concerning the mess of American immigration.

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