Robby Benson as a Chicano gang member? As anyone who's ever seen this sweet-faced kid ooze wholesomeness in movies like "One on One" or "Ice Castles" knows, that's like casting Doris Day as a hooker.
Nevertheless, a gang member is what Robby Benson plays in "Walk Proud," and unfortunately, the results are just what you'd expect. The minute he appears on the screen as Emilio Mendez, the movie falls apart. It's not just the Mr. Nice Guy stereotype, it's everything - his clothes, his earnest manner, his fakey swagger. Sometimes he has an accent, sometimes not. He's a disaster.
We are also supposed to believe that Emilio and a beautiful, WASPy blonde classmate, Sarah (Sarah Holcomb), fall in love. Lest we forget that they're from different cultures, there's a barrage of heavy-handed symbolism to remind us. Sarah sits in redwood splendor in her bedroom, surrounded by Tiffany lamps and ficus trees, talking on the phone to Emilio in his hovel. He walks her home, and they touch hands through the wrouhgt iron gate in front of her house. They go out on her father's luxury boat, she in her designer sailing togs, he in his undershirt. Of course, the adjustment problem Sarah will have giving all this up is never addressed.
Perhaps these scenes wouldn't seem so sappy if they weren't contrasted with other scenes of great violence. It makes for a very schizoprenic movie. At first you listen to Benson and his gang pals prattle away and think you're watching a TV sit-com version of reality. Then bam, somebody gets his teeth kicked out. Then sweetness as Benson spies the girl of his dreams walking across the schoolyard. Then he and his pals kick and punch a fellow gang member into uncounsciousness.
There's enough violence in this movie to earn it an "R" rating twice over, but it's a "PG." Whoever rates these things seems to feel that anything goes as long as you don't curse or take your clothes while you're doing it. These guys don't utter so much as a "damn," so it's okay for kids to watch them beat each other to bloody pulps.
WALK PROUD - AMC Skyline 6, Jerry Lewis, Riverdale Plaza, Rockville, Springfield Mall, Studio.