It’s hard to believe a film that focuses on the life of an imprisoned Ku Klux Klan member can be a heartwarming story. Well, director Jesse Baget managed to spin the tale to his liking with Cellmates, presenting a story about rehabilitation, change, and an unexpected love. The film definitely was much more than I expected, given its repetitive nature and use of very few characters.
The majority of the film, aside from scenes providing background information and other flashbacks, takes place within the walls of the Low Lee Tuna prison in 1976. Tom Sizemore makes a comeback as Leroy Lowe, a devoted and powerful member of the KKK who is forced to share a prison cell with Mexican immigrant Emilio Ortiz (Hector Jimenez). Immediately this sets up a comedic scenario, only heightened by Jimenez’s over-the-top performance as a talkative, needy character in search of the American dream – and perfect hair. He eventually softens Lowe, causing him to let go of the Klan and fight inequality. The complete character transformation is very gradual and believable, thanks to Sizemore’s performance.
Adding to the contrast of characters is Madalena (Olga Segura) and Warden Merville (Stacy Keach). Madalena is Melville’s maid and serves as Lowe’s unlikely love interest in the film. Their relationship develops as they send letters back and forth without ever actually speaking a word to each other. The audience becomes emotionally invested in this relationship, knowing they represent the littlest bit of hope in each other’s lives. On the other end of the spectrum is Melville, the potato obsessed prison warden Madalena works for. He makes it his duty to “rehabilitate” Lowe, although his motives are questionable with his racist beliefs. The four main characters are all so different, yet they come together to create a sense of unity and balance.
Cellmates also features Kevin P. Farley as Bubba, Lowe’s sidekick, but his character ends up being somewhat irrelevant as the plot focuses much more on the relationships building on screen and he is killed off quite early in the film. It seems as if Baget had to get rid of Bubba’s character in order to allow Lowe to change and get rid of the influence of the KKK in his life. A very subtle yet impactful decision on the part of writers (Jesse Baget and Stefania Moscato) in order to keep the storyline moving and help the plot develop swiftly.
The film is enjoyable and feel good, providing hope and a message that people can change and accept one another no matter how different they might be. It hits select theaters on Friday June 1st and I definitely recommend going if you are seeking a warm, buddy story.
Click here to watch the trailer and read the official synopsis: