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Film review: Highway Patrolman

Published: Tuesday, May 3 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

"Highway Patrolman" is a Mexican film by English filmmaker Alex Cox, whose movies have been as disparate as they can possibly be - "Repo Man," "Sid and Nancy," "Walker" and "Straight to Hell."

In fact, "Highway Patrolman," which is something of a Mexican take on "Electra Glide in Blue," is about as straight and to the point as any Cox film yet, though there is also myriad symbolism. Basically, however, "Highway Patrolman" can be enjoyed as a gripping character study that feels thoroughly Mexican in terms of its sensibilities and attention to cultural detail . . . despite the director's pedigree.

We initially meet young Pedro Rojas (Roberto Sosa) in the police academy, where he is told in class that everyone on the highway is "always guilty of something." The rule is to stop drivers first and ask questions later. Meanwhile, the academy's chief has cadets wash his car, mow his lawn and chauffeur his family around town.

Pedro's mother and siblings are proud of his career choice, but his father doesn't even show up to his graduation - nor does he show up later to Pedro's wedding. The haunting spectre of this paternal neglect hangs over Pedro's life in a most disturbing manner and affects everything he does.

When he finally gets on the highway, Pedro finds himself sitting in his patrol car staring at a pale stretch of desert. The straight-arrow rookie encounters one problem after another until his ideals are taxed to extremes as he foolishly arrests the governor's son, encounters drug dealers who get the better of him and he even falls in love with a drug-addicted prostitute (Vanessa Bauche).

When Pedro marries a demanding woman (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) he meets on the job, he continues his relationship with the prostitute, which puts a strain on his family and his finances. And when he doesn't prove himself as well as his academy scores had led his superiors to expect, his commander expresses displeasure.

Meanwhile, poverty looms at every turn, tied to the corruption Pedro encounters daily on the highway. And with his personal problems and his wife's demands for more money, it isn't long before Pedro allows himself to join his corrupt colleagues, accepting bribes, stealing valuables from accident victims and ultimately plotting to get the better of those drug dealers.

Pedro pays a huge price for his actions, but in the eyes of this film he remains a sympathetic character, perhaps because actor Sosa is so doggedly single-minded in his approach. That also describes the film's director, as Cox lets many scenes play out in long, languid takes, so that we feel Pedro's emotions all the more vividly.

Though unrated, "Highway Patrolman" would certainly receive an R rating for violence, gore, profanity and vulgarity. There is also some sex, partial nudity and drug abuse.