Friday, March 20, 2009


Heartbreaker DVD coverHeartbreaker was released in 1983, but focuses on the 1970s as it examines the culture of automobile fanatics, low-riders in particular. It is soon realized after the first scene that the flashy cars are the real stars of the show: they sparkle, they roar, they even bounce; and everything is in the meticulous detail. In this society, appearances mean everything.

Beto (Fernando Allende) is Latin American and his popularity is obvious as he enters a local nightclub. He suddenly spots Kim (Dawn Dunlap), a petite blonde bombshell on the dance floor, whom he immediately begins to make eyes with. She is receptive to his flirtations, but her dance partner, Hector (Peter Gonzales Falcon) is not quite so pleased and immediately leads her off the floor. Beto, who ends up chatting at their table with mutual friends, reluctantly leaves after sensing Hector’s discomfort, but not before he confirms his shampoo appointment on Tuesday with Kim, who just happens to be a local hairdresser. Hector warns Kim that Beto is a player, but Kim dares not trust Hector either when, as he drops her off at her parents’ house, he becomes angry and calls her a little girl when she refuses to move out and live with him.

The next day, the low-rider enthusiast club, The Golden Knights, are introduced, complete with matching gold windbreakers. Beto is the president of the club which is known for its high standards and attention to detail. As the guys joke around and examine each others’ cars, Angel (Miguel Ferrer) teases that he’s going to race Beto for the presidency. Surprisingly, Beto responds by saying that after the next car show he will turn the club over to Angel because he wants to focus on other things now. As a token of contract, Beto gives the club’s beloved golden knight statue to Angel to hold on to for a few days. Beto then goes to get a hair cut from Kim who, despite Beto’s forward advances, insists she is not available. In the next scene, Hector proposes a car show to the Golden Knights where the grand prize is $10,000. Beto refuses because he thinks Hector is under-handed in how he raised the prize money; and due to this refusal, an arsonist sneaks into Angel’s garage at night, steals the knight statue, and torches Angel’s beloved car, which, come morning, is nothing but a hunk of burnt metal. A tip-off from a neighbourhood kid causes the group to suspect Wings, a dishonest character from The Vikings car club, as the arsonist; but before Angel can do anything drastic, Beto asks him to stick with the club and address this problem correctly. Beto then enlists his African-American friend, and fellow car enthusiast, Hopper (Michael D. Roberts), to collect information about the arson. Hector warns Wings that he is being suspected of the crime and sends him out of town for a while to collect an old car; the same car that Hector offers to Angel to restore as a sponsorship to enter his car show. Despite Angel’s reluctance to betray Beto and the Golden Knights, he desperately yearns to work on a car again and accepts the offer.

Meanwhile, Beto tries his hardest to spend time with Kim, but she won’t give in, explaining that things just seem to move so fast when Beto is around. Finally, in a local diner, Beto yells out, in front of Kim and all the customers that he’s in love with her. He is met with cheers from the on-lookers and an embarrassed, but flattered, expression from Kim, and the two begin spending more time together. Kim’s parents are aghast that she is friends with such a “greaseball” and wants to move out into that “part of town”, but their opinions do a complete turn-around when they are immediately charmed by Beto as he arrives to help move Kim’s things. After everything is moved, Kim finally accepts Beto’s offer of a date and the two primp and preen themselves in anticipation. Just as Beto leaves his house, he finds a note on his car giving him directions on where to go to get information about the arson. Against his better judgment, he races to the location, an arcade, to find Hopper playing games and knowing absolutely nothing about the note. Unbeknownst to Beto, as he tries to get a hold of Kim by telephone, Hector had heard about their date and tried to get Beto out of the way so that he could go to Kim’s and, due to his intoxication, try to rape her. Kim chases Hector away with a knife, but is so distraught that she can not even open the door when Beto finally arrives. Beto becomes depressed as Kim cuts off all communication to him. He tries everything to get her attention, but finally, after what seems like several weeks, it is Kim that seeks him out and the two begin a tender relationship full of love and admiration for eachother.

Then, at Hector’s anticipated car show, Hopper tells Beto that someone is selling the golden knight statue for $100. He plans to mark a hundred dollar bill and then follow the vendor to see who was behind the arson. This plan would have worked if he hadn’t been distracted by the wet t-shirt contest on stage and lost the vendor in the crowd. Later, while chatting with Beto, Hopper spots the vendor again, this time standing with Wings. Beto confronts Wings and challenges him to a private fist fight in Hopper’s car-trailer. Beto wins the fight and Wings confesses that it was Hector that set fire to Angel’s car. Meanwhile, Angel had just won the best-in-show $10,000 prize, but becomes enraged when he hears who was behind the arson, resulting in an all-out car chase as the Golden Knights track down Hector. Angel finally corners him and gives the dishonest crook’s car a few bashes with a metal rod before Beto arrives and reminds Angel that whatever he plans to do, the whole club will be watching him. Angel understands the warning and grudgingly lets Hector go, throwing the best-in-show trophy at him in disgust. Beto gives the recently retrieved golden statue back to a gracious Angel. With that, Beto declines the invitation to go to the car show’s after-party and instead begins his new life with Kim as they head home.

Despite more than half of the cast being Latino, their country of origin is never specified. The only clue to this puzzle is when Beto tries to teach Kim the Mexican phrase “órale”, meaning “let’s do it”. It is significant that both clubs, the dishonest Vikings and the honorable Golden Knights, have Latino members; thus not stereotyping any one race as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The main prejudice in the plot is one of social classes which then lends itself to race. Kim’s mom asks her why she wants to live in the “other part of town”, connotatively the bad part, as her father adds in racial slurs, such as “wetbacks”. But Heartbreaker maintains its ideal of equality when Beto ends up mesmerizing Kim’s parents with his polite manner and magnetic personality; apparently not the qualities that they were expecting from someone of Latin descent living in the ‘other part of town’. At first, when Beto tries to court Kim, she displays this same bigotry, saying, “We are different people, with different attitudes towards life.” Beto doesn’t stand for this kind of statement and quizzes her on how they are different: Because their colour of hair is different? Or is it their skin, one looking like mashed potatoes, the other like refried beans (lending significance to their separate cultures)? It is at this point that Beto announces to the diner that he is in love with Kim and this melts away any barriers of background which may have stood in their way. The majority of Latinos in the film are constantly beating away the stereotypes of separate cultures as they allow their love of cars to open up doorways into a common ground, upon which one of any heritage can present their hard work. The reward for Beto’s attempts to combine both the American and the Latino worlds comes in the last scene when Kim smiles at Beto and says, “Órale”, thus permitting both cultures to co-exist in harmony.

Labels: ,