Written by: Danny Miguel | Directed by: Danny Miguel | Genre: Documentary
Reviewed by Jeremy Gladstone.
This is the story of Rick and Fred Esparza, a pair of drag-racing enthusiasts that have been doing what they love for so long that they’re pioneers in their field. The story of “Mexican Express” will take you all the way back to their earliest days of roughhousing in school, to the first track (Lions Drag Strip) that kept them out of jail by affording them the opportunity to focus their passion on something positive. Wondering how you got to drive one of the cars and asking the pros at such a young age, they learned, “you don’t get to drive’em; you’ve gotta build your own.” The rest, as they say, is history; they buy an old truck, convert it into a race car, and they’re off and running, learning everything about cars from the ground up on their own and putting every spare moment they have into their new vocation.
You youngins would call Rick and Fred “the OGs” – these are the dudes that paved the way for the rest of the sport to flourish as it still does today. They’re the kind of guys that are already at the finish line while you’re still spinning your wheels. They’re the people that others in the sport look up to as the blueprint for the amount of commitment, dedication, and love required to succeed in the industry built for speed. They’ve lived quite a storied life, and as a result, they’ve become immortalized for their contributions within “Mexican Express.” Rightly so – there’s no doubt that they’ve put the work in.
It’d be impossible to miss the true authenticity in this story of the Esparza brothers. Danny Miguel, the director, has smartly woven together two timelines, with the present-day Rick & Fred recalling their adventures onscreen, while simultaneously showing us a plethora of old vintage photographs and footage from the era. With everything from the present in full color as you’d expect, it’s quite easy to notice when you slip back into the past and see the old photos onscreen in black & white or sepia; it’s the kind of move that gives real credence to the fact that the Esparza has been doing what they do longer than half of you wonderful people reading this review have been alive. From the streets to the tracks, they’ve been there and seen it all. We even see them driving a Nissan now at one point, which is…well heck, it’s honestly kind of odd based on all these stories, but we all gotta slow down some time.
It’s a largely reflective documentary, which works both for it and against it in other ways. We’ve got no real choice but to take Rick & Fred’s word for what we see because there’s no real evidence otherwise, which is fine in the sense that we can tell they’re being genuine, but the majority of the stories you’ll see have little to support them but perhaps a picture or two that might vaguely reference the details. In the day & age of people desiring to see what they’re being told onscreen, it does create a barrier between the story and the viewers, though I’d readily acknowledge there’s really no other way to have shown it given that these guys come from a time where not everyone had a phone in the pocket, all ready to film. That being said, there’s probably an argument to be made that something like the “Mexican Express” would perhaps be even better off as a podcast series where it’s not as dependent on retaining attention on a visual level because it’s fair to say that a lot of this movie is spent listening, while basically flipping through the ol’ family photos as the main source of any visual entertainment. For those with an intense interest in drag racing or motor sports, chances are, you’ll really dig what you see every bit as much as what you’ll hear in the stories being told – there’s real history to be found in both aspects, but it’s a lot harder to say if enough has been done to create an interest for people from outside of the racing strip.
You feel the tributary nature of this film as you watch it as a result of there not being a ton of visual support beyond the old photos, and ultimately, that’s actually kind of endearing. We spend the majority of our time with Rick and Fred right in the here & now, which makes it clear that Miguel chose to tell their story because he genuinely wanted to tell it, preserve it, and give the brothers the credit they’ve truly earned. I’ve got love and appreciation for that and might have enjoyed that aspect of “Mexican Express” even more as a person that knows nothing about cars & barely knows the difference between a wrench and a screwdriver. As we close the story with the demolition of the Lions Drag Strip, we know that we’ve actually experienced an entire era of our history through the lives of Fred and Rick, and we feel the finality of it, even though we know the story will continue on as a result of all they contributed to it. These dudes drove some incredible cars, and there’s no doubt about that; it’s long past their prime by the time that we meet them onscreen, but their memories are as sharp as ever and detail how the sport has been able to grow, change, and evolve throughout the years. Much credit to Rick & Fred, they’re definitely watchable, and they’ve got a whole lot of personality – and credit to Miguel for choosing to tell a story that otherwise might not ever be told…personally, I think there’s tremendous value in that.
All-in-all, “Mexican Express” gives you that feeling you get when you tour through the streets where you used to live and gives you that nostalgic trip we all crave through the eyes of Rick & Fred Esparza. I like that you get the history of the area, the diversity, the demographics, and what life was like back when they were first hitting the strip and that we understand how much things have changed over the years. You can tell these two earned their stripes on the asphalt and deserve their due credit. Our pioneers are an increasing rarity in this world we’re living in, but their legacies and stories will continue on thanks to the work of people like director Danny Miguel that choose to show their respect to the true originals. I’m going with a three-star review – “Mexican Express” hits its intended mark; it might tell us more than we see onscreen, but ultimately it goes a long way to revealing two of the most influential names in the game and educates us all on what life was like way back when the rubber really began to meet the road.
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