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Under the Same Moon (La misma luna)

(2008) ** Pg-13
109 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director: Patricia Riggen. Cast: Kate Del Castillo, Adrian Alonso, America Ferrera, Eugenio Derbez, Carmen Salinas.

The decidedly uneven Under the Same Moon tells the parallel stories of an immigrant mother in the U.S. and her nine-year-old son, who lives on the other side of the Mexican border. When his tentative circumstances take a dramatic turn, little Carlitos decides to take off on a five-day journey to meet his mother. Can a boy on his own overcome the insurmountable odds against him?

The premise is naturally engaging, and young Adrian Alonso makes a likeable protagonist, with strong support from Eugenio Derbez as a cranky migrant worker roped into helping the boy. But as mom Rosario, Kate del Castillo mostly just wears a faraway look in her eye. Fending off repeated offers of legalization-by-marriage from an acquaintance named Paco (Gabriel Porras), Rosario seems to be on Valium as she flip-flops as to whether or not she should enter a loveless marriage with a decent guy: if only she would articulate what she's feeling, for Paco's benefit or the audience's.

When it comes to the rest of the picture, director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos aren't ones for subtlety. America Ferrera and Jesse Garcia embarrass themselves by playing migrant smugglers who are warned that they're clumsily nervous (screenwriting tip 322: create tension!), then prove it repeatedly (screenwriting tip 323: pay off tension!). A scene that proves shared DNA by having two characters eat their burgers the same way will have you running for the exits. Worse, Rosario submits to mistreatment and patronization in her job as maid to a Snotty, British-Accented BitchTM (Jacqueline Voltaire) nicknamed "Cruella de Vil." Gee, those immigrants sure do have it hard—nasty white people! Honestly, is this the best way to make a point about immigration?

Let's just say that the film's strongest commentary on immigration comes from a satirical mariachi song ("Superman is an Illegal") and leave it at that. Turning feel-bad to feel-good, Riggen delivers her true, audience-friendly message: love is all you need. Again, the message is delivered unambiguously in a mariachi song, performed by guest stars Los Tigres del Norte (maybe we should just buy the soundtrack?). Under the Same Moon tries so hard to put a human face on the immigration issue that it ends up feeling as genuine as a plastic Halloween mask.

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