Directed by: Mike Bruce
Starring: Cameron Von Hoy, Michael Drayer, Timothy V Murphy, Masayuki Imai
Two young Americans, Shlomo and Anthony, head to Mexico intending to get rich quick with a one-time drug smuggling opportunity. Instead, they end up in jail almost immediately. Whilst there, they meet Blake West, a roguish treasure hunter who convinces them to accompany him into the desert to retrieve a statue of a jaguar made entirely of gold. There journey into the desert is both treacherous and deadly, and not everyone is going to make it back out...
Mike Bruce's Treasure of the Black Jaguar is an entertaining indie flick which riffs on the classic Treasure of Sierra Madre. Its only issue is that its packed full of reprehensible characters there's no one really for the audience to root for.
Take for example our two main protagonists, two layabout slackers looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. Anthony has a girlfriend, Gabriella, who is trying to wean him off his loser friends and help him turn his life around, and gets justifiably angry when he ups and leaves with the guy she feels is the worst influence on him, Shlomo.
What is funny is that the film itself has no illusions about these two, and they get a sharp lesson in reality very quickly. We see them heading off to Mexico, talking about the trip to Las Vegas their trip is going to eventually fund, when suddenly we cut to them both behind bars, scaredand desperate.
It's here they meet Blake West, who saves them from a "forced intimate encounter" with some burly cell-mates, and makes them an offer they can't really refuse. The boys' inherent greed vastly outweighs their common sense.
Blake West is also a difficult person to sympathise with. At first he seems a more roguish Indiana Jones, dealing with the more illegal end of treasure hunting. However we soon learn that he double-crossed his previous partner, resulting in his daughter paying the price. Shlomo and Anthony get clued in when their car breaks down and Blake car-jacks another, committing murder in the process.
The cinematography turns out to be one of the film's high points, perfectly capturing the heat and desolate landscape of the desert. One scene is sped up to quickly show the trio's progress over a rocky outcrop, the camera set a fair distance away, showing that the trio of actors (or their doubles) must have actually done that ascent with no interference from the rest of the film crew.
The film ends with a bloodbath, which reminded me of two distinct films: Firstly a classic, bloody kung fu movie called The Assassin (directed by Siu-Hung Cheung) and El Mariachi/Desperado back when Robert Rodrigues was still a young innovative director.
Treasure of The Black Jaguar is a solid thriller mixing comedy and doomed adventure. There are moments which will remind you of a young and lean Robert Rodrigues.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)