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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Red 11’: In which a big-budget filmmaker heads back to his roots to tell his low-budget origin story

It’s the stuff that 1990s filmmaking legends are made of. Back in the old days when a guy named Tarantino was transitioning from being a video clerk to a guy who would become an in-demand screenwriter and revered director, another guy named Robert Rodriguez also wanted to make a dang movie.

Rodriguez, a Texas guy, put himself through some medical experiments in order to help sponge up about $7,000 to film a low-budget flick released in 1991 about a very dangerous guy toting a guitar case. The flick, El Mariachi, sent Rodriguez’s career into the stratosphere and he, along with similar maverick-outsider-DIY indy guys Tarantino and Kevin Smith in the 1990s, all have had durable-yet-vacillating careers in the three decades since putting out flicks with the drive-in/exploitation/grindhouse mentality in multiplexes.

For his part, Rodriguez wrote a book about his experience on El Mariachi called “Rebel Without a Crew.” It’s a solid guide into how he got his first full-length feature made back then and even inspired a couple of how-to-make-a-flick TV shows Rodriguez had a role in directing. Every DVD he’s put out also has a “10-Minute Film School” segment giving (not gonna use the word that starts with “as” and sounds like “tiring”) filmmakers some of the tricks and pointers he learned in his early days so they could get a leg up.

So, getting back to more modern times, Rodriguez mined the past in 2018 with Red 11, throwing it back to his filmmaker origin story where he retells it with some fictionalization. He reportedly made it for the same $7,000 that he made El Mariachi for. (But he actually did it for less because $7,000 in 1991 was worth a lot more than $7,000 in 2018 — it’s that whole inflation thing).  The title comes from his patient ID when Rodriguez himself was a human lab rat.

No, Antonio Banderas doesn’t surf down a building and shoot back up as he falls, Salma Hayek is nowhere to be found and Danny Trejo isn’t stabbing folks with a big ol machete.

Instead, it’s about a mild-mannered guy named, get this – Rob (Roby Attal). All he wants to do is make independent horror movies, but a bad decision put him and his pal James in trouble with some drug cartel who take a page from the U.S. payday loan industry and charge exorbitant interest rates. The $7,000 they borrowed has ballooned to $45,000 due to what are dubbed “pain in the ass” fees and Rob’s going to pay his part (the $7k) by volunteering for a medical experiment.

The “unique” study, according to the researchers, has surgery and pain involved, including scarring and be subjected to the testing of a “speed healing” drug. Subjects are separated into groups by color-coded T-shirt (except for a guy in a black shirt, who is identified as being in a whole different study and not to be interacted with), get a hole poked in em, stay for two weeks and then shuffle off with pay and the two weeks’ free food and board, provided they don’t disrupt the severely regimented schedule or forget to finish their dinner.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Red 11': In which a big-budget filmmaker heads back to his roots to tell his low-budget origin story 1
Doc Sock (Brently Heilbron) is one of the staffers who subjects the human lab rats to some drug experiments in “Red 11.” (Photo courtesy IMDB.com)

“Your life may be inadvertently harmed,” the release says.

Cups are peed into. People start barfing all over the place and are whisked away to the mysterious lower level. Rob networks with Red 3, aka “Score,” who walks around with a tablet and an app to provide his own (and the flick’s) diegetic music.

Rob wants to get out of there pronto because the drug cartel throw James off a building while they’re on the phone together, so he steals another guy’s medicine and gets sick so he can be released, Instead, he finds out that the drugs are giving some people telekinesis, telepathic abilities and elevated strength or maybe it’s just weird side effects of the experiment that are causing hallucinations like making a piece of paper appear to be a hypodermic needle. He also meets a girl in a magenta T-shirt (Lauren Hatfield).

Things REALLY get moving when the doctors give all the other lab rats this red IV of stuff and they get zombified and put in green contact lenses so they can chase the good guys around.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Red 11': In which a big-budget filmmaker heads back to his roots to tell his low-budget origin story 2

Best Deliverer of Abject Pain: “Vampira” the blood drawer, never hits the vein, instead opting to shove the needle all the way into the arm and then do a couple 360s with the hypodermic.

Best Career Choice: Red 7 (Eman Esfandi) says being a lab rat “is the best job in the world. I’d be here more often, but they make you wash before you reapply. Free food.  Free digs. Make good money and I can write my novel.”

Best Observation: Red 3 (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) sees 11’s initial reaction to Magenta 6 — “She really did a number on you. This is the first time you haven’t looked constipated.”

Best Psycho: Teal 2, aka “Knives” (Rebel Rodriguez), has a knife he says he triple-forged with Japanese steel and can cut the air so it sings and makes Red 11 buy it for $400. He also gets stuck with a hypodermic in his arm, cuts the wound open, sucks out the drug and spits it out.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Red 11': In which a big-budget filmmaker heads back to his roots to tell his low-budget origin story 3
Movie Guy (yellow shirt) is engrossed in a flick but the evil Spoiler (Pierce Bailey), right, prepares to ruins the experience in “Red 11.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

Second-best Psycho: Movie Guy beats the crap out of Spoiler Guy, who habitually ruins the endings of movies.

Best Way to Score a Burger: Magenta 6 changes shirts with Red 11 to get his food while they’re confined in the basement.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Red 11': In which a big-budget filmmaker heads back to his roots to tell his low-budget origin story 4
Rob (Roby Attal), aka “Red 11,” and Magenta 6 (Lauren Hatfield) brandish some weapons that ought to be familiar to fans of Robert Rodriguez flicks in their big bustout attempt. (Photo courtesy IMDB.com)

Best Way to Score Weaponry: Red 11 and Magenta 6 snag prop weapons from From Dusk Till Dawn (the jackhammer stake) and Predators (the sword-looking thing) to use in an escape attempt.

Best Cameo: The main heavy is played by Carlos Gallardo, aka the star of El Mariachi.

Three stars.

Red 11 is available to stream on TubiTV, Vudu, kanopy and a bunch of other places and on physical media. Check it out!

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