“It will do you good to spend some time in prison.”
Johnny 100 Pesos is a very dark, strange Chilean crime film. When I say the film is ‘strange’ I should add that there are moments of humor juxtaposed with moments of dark reality. And I’m not that sure we’re really meant to laugh at some of the funny moments at all. Perhaps they are just placed within the film to accentuate the horror that awaits some of these characters.
The film is set in Chile. The days of the military junta are over, but life is still tough for a great many Chileans. When the film begins, a 17-year-old student named Johnny (Armando Araiza), dressed in his school uniform, sits on the bus. He’s obviously nervous, and events indicate he’s an inept criminal. He enters a high-rise building and goes into an apartment that’s converted into a tiny video rental shop. There are just a few choices here, and the walls are covered with posters of various recognizable films–including Last Tango in Paris. But Johnny isn’t there to rent a videotape. He’s there, along with accomplices, to rob the shop which is a front for a money laundering business. The crime goes wrong, and the crooks and their hostages find themselves in a siege situation with Chilean police.
What ensues is a comedy/tragedy of errors. Holed up in the video shop, the criminals along with their various hostages are trapped. As the hapless thieves try to negotiate their way out, we get flashes of life in Chile. Blood-sucking paparazzi mercilessly hound Johnny’s mother for a hint of where he went ‘wrong’ in childhood, and government officials juggle the potentially disastrous situation with concerns that it won’t look ‘good’ for them if hostages are killed. Meanwhile post-Pinochet government officials who are ‘sensitive’ to public opinion and public pressure must deal with others whose belief systems are locked in the ‘good old’ days–the hanging judge, a dinosaur from the Pinochet era, who couldn’t care less what happens to the hostages.
While the thieves are hardened criminals, Johnny is not. He’s never been to jail, and he has no idea of what awaits him. Some of the most powerful scenes in the film occur when the other gang members fill Johnny in with the details of what to expect in prison. One of the hostages is a beautiful ex-prostitute who’s married to the owner of the shop. She relates to Johnny and the poverty that drives him to crime. This is a very dark crime film, and although I expected it to be fairly mediocre, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. In Spanish with subtitles, Johnny 100 Pesos is directed by Gustavo Graef-Marino.