Johnny 100 Pesos

on November 10, 1995 by Pat Kramer
   Like "Dog Day Afternoon," in which a bungled bank robbery turns into a media event, "Johnny 100 Pesos" is based on a 1990 incident in Santiago, Chile, in which five would-be robbers took hostages in a video store after their heist went sour. Director Gustavo Graef-Marino has made vibrating and interesting characters of the five criminals, with his focus primarily on Johnny Garcia (Armando Araiza), a wayward teen who commits the crime while wearing his school uniform.
   After police surround the video store, which is a front for an illegal money-changing operation, tensions between the criminals and their hostages lead to violence. Tension of another type, sexual, is stirred between Johnny and the seductive Gloria, one of his hostages; a sexual liaison results. Because the Chilean government is newly democratic, officials ask the police to resolve the incident without bloodshed. While the police attempt to talk the robbers into giving up peacefully, TV reporters produce a blitzkrieg of live coverage. Identifying Johnny as a good-boy-turned-bad, the media descend on his home and school, broadcasting messages to him from his family and friends. Inside the store, infighting develops among the criminals on how to proceed. The film nicely uses irony and absurdity as it documents the ensuing power struggle among the robbers, their hostages, the government and the police.
   Director Graef-Marino has taken some storyline liberties to create a film of international appeal ("Johnny 100 Pesos" was the Chilean entry for the 1994 foreign-film Oscar), but the focus remains strong. While framing the passage of an important change in leadership in Chilean history--from 17 years of military rule to a democracy--Graef-Marino paints a realistic portrait of the struggles between those in power and those out of control. At a time when many eyes are turned to the TV for the latest O.J. trial coverage, "Johnny 100 Pesos" illustrates just how powerful the media can be in influencing public opinion and how irresponsible in their race to capitalize on breaking news.    Starring Armando Araiza, Patricia Rivera and Willy Semler. Directed and produced by Gustavo Graef-Marino. Written by Gustavo Graef-Marino and Gerardo Caceres. An IRS release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 90 min.
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