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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Endgame  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Carmen Marron.
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Ivonne Coll, Alina Herrera, Cassie Brennan, Jon Gries, Xavier Gonzalez, John Flores, Alesia Orta, Rodrigo Macouzet, Ivan Cisneros.
2015 – 90 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of a PG for mild language, thematic elements and a brief sexual reference).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 27, 2016.
There isn't a single surprising development or unforeseen story turn in "Endgame," and yet, as a study in formulaic Screenwriting 101 filmmaking, it's really rather pleasant and sometimes surprisingly moving. A sports drama directed and co-written by Carmen Marron, the film follows a 12-year-old boy, Jose (Rico Rodriguez), grappling with tough life truths while moving ever closer to the state championships with his Texas middle school's chess team. That, in a nutshell, is the entirety of the plot, though it is the relationships and themes—including the tragic loss of a loved one, feelings of parental neglect, and undocumented immigration—hanging on the periphery which give the proceedings a well-meaning purpose.

Setting "Endgame" in the predominately Hispanic border town of Brownsville, Marron and co-scribe Hector Salinas bring a touch of grit to what easily might have become an overly sugary Hallmark movie. On screen for nearly every second, Rico Rodriguez (TV's "Modern Family") is naturally sympathetic even when Jose is acting out in difficult ways, while Justina Machado (2014's "The Purge: Anarchy") poignantly conveys the weight of her grief as mother Karla, unable to reconcile the death of her eldest son. Supporting turns from Efren Ramirez (2009's "Crank: High Voltage"), as inspiring chess coach Mr. Alvarado; Ivonne Coll (TV's "Jane the Virgin"), as Jose's caring abuelita; Alina Herrera, as Jose's best friend Dani, and Cassie Brennan (2014's "The Single Moms Club") as cute, flirtatious chess competitor Sandy, fill out a world that feels closely observed and lived-in. "Endgame" isn't quite the second coming of 1993's "Searching for Bobby Fischer"—there are still some forced and too-cutesy moments—but the film paints chess as an enticing game of strategy, one that provides Jose with a way to cope in a world that isn't always fair.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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