An overly serious drama/colossal hoot from the director of the dope-peddlin' Empire (Franc. Reyes—and, yes, the period's on purpose), this exploitation pic is straight outta 1975. "You want some of this, motherfuckers!" shouts Wanda De Jesus as the pistol-packin' mama trying to keep her two sons safe from the small-time Puerto Rican drug lord whose minions arrive on her suburban Connecticut doorstep to reclaim a 20-year-old debt. Staged with a straight face as a story about a son (Rick Gonzalez, better known as Old School's Spanish) paying for the sins of his dead drug-dealing dad (Manny Perez), Illegal Tender is producer John Singleton's attempt to remake the blaxploitation film in Caribbean shades. Only the fun comes too late; before De Jesus storms out of the house with her guns blazing, the movie's a little too somber, as though it's ashamed of showing its hand too soon. By the time we get to the scene in which a mother opens a safe full of pistols and tells her little boy to grab one—only to be followed by a scene in which the innocent-bystander girlfriend wields two kitchen knives beneath a basement staircase—we're too bored to have fun.
Gonzalez on hiatus from hustlin with Dania Ramierez.
Opens at Meridian and other theaters, Fri., Aug. 24. Rated R. 108 minutes.