Writer-director Peter Bratt bids for his brother Benjamin’s barrio credentials, casting his actor sibling as the tat-covered Che—a bus driver who lords over the film’s titular San Francisco Latino ’hood. You get the usual O.G. mean-machismo scenarios: Che talks tough to local thugs when he’s not tinkering on souped-up classic rides with pals. Then things get interesting when he finds photos of his son, Jesse (Valdez), necking with a white boy in the Castro. The single father’s masculine pride is sent into a tailspin, with Jesse accusing his ex-con papi of having partaken in inmate sex—which opens narrative possibilities the movie has no idea what to do with.
Instead, the filmmaker opts for a more conventional route, shuttling Che through meditative montages and kitchen-therapy sessions with his tough-guy friends (“God’s not punishing you, homey.... We do a good job of that on our own”). Still, Bratt’s performance suggests enough subcutaneous rage to give the proceedings an edge, even when the sluggish narrative takes the slow-cruise ethos of its low-rider culture far too literally at times. And despite the occasional ethnic caricatures and emphasis on sexual confusion, La Mission emits enough of a warm, communal vibe to make this drama feel like a welcome neighborhood stay.—Kevin B. Lee
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