The frontal assault on your tear ducts begins immediately: A mother (Del Castillo) breaks down as she pledges her love to her young son, Carlitos (Alonso), over the phone. She’s in Los Angeles, an illegal immigrant trying to make a living; he’s still in Mexico, taking care of his infirm grandmother. This weekly call ends with a spectacular display of waterworks, and Patricia Riggen’s moppet melodrama only gets more shameless from there. Carlitos sneaks across the border with a Chicana (Ugly Betty’s Ferrera), vowing to find Mom. The road is paved with perils—meth tweakers, chicken-hawk pimps, the multitentacled beast known as “La Migra”—but with the help of a patron-saint drifter (Derbez), the boy heads west to reach his goal.
Given how Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos have so blatantly rigged the game, it’s never a question of how Under the Same Moon will end, but of what will happen along the way. The answer, depressingly, is a parade of cheap shots designed to provoke knee-jerk reactions; only a montage of puppies being slaughtered would be more manipulative. Every so often, a telling detail surfaces: the way that migrant workers interact while watching a soccer game, or the Spanish radio patter that accompanies a housemaid’s predawn commute. Then more thick tides of telenovela sap wash away any whiff of authenticity. Some will say that only hardened hearts wouldn’t be moved by a child searching for his mother, but this is exactly the kind of lazy emotional exploitation that breeds cinecynics.