EXCLUSIVE: Briarcliff Entertainment has acquired U.S. rights to El Chicano, a Latino superhero film with an all-Hispanic cast that just had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It’s the second film for Briarcliff, the upstart distribution venture launched by Open Road founder Tom Ortenberg, after just opening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9. El Chicano will be released theatrically on March 22, 2019, and sources said the target is 600-800 screens.
El Chicano marks the feature film directorial debut of 25-year veteran stuntman Ben Hernandez Bray, who co-wrote the script with Joe Carnahan. Carnahan produced with Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Carnahan’s WarParty partner Frank Grillo. It’s the first wide release for WarParty and its Calgary-based equity partner WarChest.
The action film tells the story of twin brothers Diego and Pedro (both played by Raúl Castillo), who grew up together on the streets of East Los Angeles. As adults, their lives took radically different paths as Diego became a celebrated detective for the LAPD, and Pedro turned to a dead-end life of crime. When clues start connecting Pedro’s death to a case Diego is working on, a mythological figure from his youth, The Ghetto Grim Reaper, draws Diego in deeper than he ever expected. He becomes that figure, an Hispanic version of Batman or Black Panther. The film also stars George Lopez, Aimee Garcia, Emilio Rivera, Kate del Castillo, Mr. Criminal, Noel G. Marco Rodriguez, Marlene Forte, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sal Lopez, David Castañeda and Armida Lopez.
Carnahan told Deadline that Bray has been his stunt coordinator forever, and while Carnahan was frustrated waiting for Bad Boys 3 to come together, he succumbed to Bray’s rationale and bailed on one franchise in hopes of starting another.
“I was frustrated with Bad Boys 3, and Ben had been talking about this for a decade,” Carnahan said. “He would tell me that 25% of movie tickets are purchased by Latinos, and so where are their big heroes? We wrote this on spec, and these white oil and gas guys from Canada gave us the money to make it at an under $8 million budget. It got an amazing response at the L.A. Film Festival. We believe in this, and that it can find a big audience and launch a franchise.”
Said Bray: “Just the fact that we’re making this announcement during Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the vital and important presence of Hispanics and Latinos in North America, is wonderful to me. The time is now for a film like El Chicano. A Latino superhero franchise is long overdue, but to have the forces of Joe Carnahan, Frank Grillo, Tom Ortenberg and Lorenzo di Bonaventura in the mix just makes it even sweeter and well worth the wait!”
Briarcliff CEO Ortenberg has done four films with Carnahan: The Grey, Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane and Narc, and aside from The Grey he worked with Grillo on End of Watch and Homefront. Of El Chicano, Ortenberg said: “Joe Carnahan and Frank Grillo are truly forces of nature. Their passion and commitment to the projects on which they embark is unmatched and I am thrilled to reunite with them and Ben Hernandez Bray on this groundbreaking film.”
Carnahan said: “This marks our fourth film together and that’s no accident. Tom is someone who has proven his bona fides time and again and executed at the highest levels in this business, winning Best Picture Oscars at two different studios. The thought of someone like Tom; a true industry mogul, shepherding El Chicano out into the world, with his taste, track record and a nearly 20-year friendship between us, was just too good to pass up.”
WarChest’s Art Robinson, Gianni Altobelli, Blair Ward and Ron Schmeichel are exec producers.
UTA Independent Film Group brokered the deal. Bray is repped by UTA, Circle of Confusion and Paul Hastings.