Film review: Raising Victor Vargas

Published: Friday, July 11 2003 10:06 a.m. MDT

"Raising Victor Vargas" is the film about New York teens, and sex and romance, that the unbelievably overrated 1995 film "Kids" pretended to be.

The teens in this sweet-natured, charming comedy-drama act like real teens, with their minds on one thing and one thing only — sex.

There are bound to be a few complaints that the material here has been sanitized and that treating some of it humorously undercuts the film's intentions. However, that's simply not the case. On the other hand, though the dialogue is realistic, it's unfortunate that it's so peppered with four-letter words — including the so-called "R-rated" curse word — because the material is so winning that it could appeal to a wider audience.

The title character (Victor Rasuk) is a Latino teen who lives on New York's Lower East Side in a cramped apartment with his too-good-to-be-true younger brother, Nino (Silvestre Rasuk), and Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez), his somewhat mouthy younger sister. The three are under the watchful eye of their grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), who has her own ideas of how her grandchildren should be behaving.

Unfortunately, the teens feel differently. For example, Victor is usually off pursuing one conquest after another. But he's frustrated in his pursuit of Judy (Judy Marte), a pretty teen who's got legions of male admirers. Meanwhile, his younger siblings are starting to follow in his footsteps, which has their grandmother ready to make some big changes at home.

Writer-director Peter Sollett reunites Rasuk (Victor) and Marte, who starred in "Five Feet High and Rising," his 2000 short film that explored some of the same themes. As it turns out, that was a wise choice. The two have chemistry to spare and seem very natural in front of the camera. Rasuk is ingratiating, though there are times when newcomer Guzman steals the movie from him. (Her character's exasperation at his character's actions is extremely vivid and easy to sympathize with.)

"Raising Victor Vargas" is rated R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity and crude sexual slang terms, as well as some sexual talk, brief simulated sex and sexual contact (some of it done for laughs) and use of some racial epithets. Running time: 88 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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