Director/producer Angel Gracia (director -From Prada To Nada) and producer of King of Killers that our site reviewed earlier this year, and writer Ezequiel Martinez Jr. (The Last Hope, A Gunman’s Curse) teamed up to provide the holiday feature film, How the Gringo Stole Christmas. There are similarities to prior films like Meet the Parents, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and due to that, it may be considered a predictable script. The twist on the story is that Bennie (George Lopez) has one daughter, Claudia (Emily Tosta, “Mayans M. C.” TV series), who left the West Coast to work on the East Coast. Bennie wants her to be home – in East LA – for the holidays while she is about to spend it with her beau, Leif (Jack Kilmer, Detective Knight: Independence, The Nice Guys).
Despite the title of this film, George Lopez’s character is so stubborn and limited in his perspective that it is not just Leif that he will object to – it will be any man who gets near his “little” girl, although she is over 21 years of age. Instead of blaming Leif as the one who “stole” Christmas, it is a pig–headed Bennie that finds various ways to alienate his daughter by treating her like a child, and she suffers for “surprising” the family (him). Meanwhile, Claudia’s mama, Gabbi (Mariana Trevino, A Man Called Otto, “Club de Cuervos” TV series), her Aunt Carmen (Romy Peniche, King of Killers, From Prada to Nada), and Grandmother Tita (Alma Martinez, “Gentefied” TV series, Born in East L.A.) embrace Leif and consider him a nice person. They are courteous, open, and welcoming – unlike Bennie.
George Lopez is good in his role as the character seen before in other films/TV series, with cultural pride to an excess and unwilling to make changes. Knowing the history and celebrating with traditions is understandable, but it does not mean being a mule and hurting the ones you love – and those you have not been given a chance to learn about.
I am unfamiliar with actor Emily Tosta’s prior film/television work, but she is good. I am more familiar with Jack Kilmer’s work in previous films; he does well to face Bennie. Mariana Treviño’s work in this film is good, following an outstanding performance alongside Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto. I look forward to seeing more of her future work.
Alma Martinez has a long film and television history, so it is refreshing to see her continuing her career. Romy Peniche plays a fun-loving character and deserves more roles than a one-dimensional character in the future.
I am sure there is a good reason to include the stereotypical fellows in a low–rider in this hood, but the dialogue written for them is insufficient to warrant the amount of screen time allowed for them. They are good in their performance, but they aren’t gangsters – they park across the street, watch what is happening at Bennie’s home – and comment aloud. Bennie seems to know who they are but does not allow them on his property and solicits their help toward the end of the film. Maybe I missed the joke.
I appreciate that Lionsgate has released this Christmas film as an alternative to the many we see of wealth and privilege, including one where the parents fly away and leave their child behind. I love that film, but seeing the diversity of how Christmas is celebrated in the United States is excellent. How the Gringo Stole Christmas is in theaters, on digital, and on-demand December 1st, courtesy of Lionsgate.