Tom Sizemore and Héctor Jiménez ham it up as bigot-and-minority cellmates in this minor comedy from 2012.
Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, they are not. Nor will you mistake writer/director Jesse Baget for Stanley Kramer. And while we’re at it, let’s remember that, though prejudice will never die, 2012 is hardly the racial tinderbox that was 1958.
But enough about what Cellmates is not. What it is, is a comedy in which the Texas Grand Dragon Leroy Lowe (Sizemore) is incarcerated in a labor prison. At first he’s paired with a fellow Klan member, but is soon assigned a new cellmate... you guessed it, a minority. Not a “nigra” but a “messican.” Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Jiménez plays Emilio. He’s caricatured, but thankfully not a stereotype. He is obsessed with his head of hair to make Samson jealous. He’s also unflappable, which means that if anyone gets flapped it will be Sizemore’s vein-popping bigot.
The movie eventually settles into a plot involving two letter-writing campaigns. The maid who cleans the warden’s office, Madalena (Olga Segura) — also Mexican, catches Leroy’s eye, and they trade notes like high school crushes. To prove his love Leroy will (at least appear to) overcome his bigotry. His first racially selfless act: he will make Emilio’s freedom his pet cause.
He begins a letter-writing campaign to free Emilio. The best joke of the movie is that, as a life-long member of the KKK, Leroy knows how his arch-enemies think. He knows which buttons to push on the “liverals” and Jews in Washington, DC, to appeal to their namby-pamby, equality-loving, do-gooder natures.
But for a comedy like this to work, the jokes need to fly faster and more furiously than they do here — fast enough that you don’t have time to recover from one before the next one hits. Instead, Cellmates is thinly populated with jokes that weren’t really all that fresh to begin with. In the cutthroat world of independent cinema looking for an audience, Cellmates is a lifer with little chance for appeal.