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Champion
DVD disk
07.16.2007 By: Mathew Plale
Champion order
Director:
Joe Eckardt

Actors:
Danny Trejo
Edward Bunker
Dennis Hopper

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A documentary on the troubling life of druggie-turned-character actor Danny Trejo.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Danny Trejo isn’t the most recognizable name in movies. But his face (which would’ve hogged any Sergio Leone shot) may strike a chord. Kids will know him from Spy Kids, while their older siblings will recognize his worn skin from Desperado and his cameo in Grindhouse.

But Champion isn’t about his career in “the industry”—more of the long journey to. The talking-head documentary (which had a steady festival run in 2005) lays heavy focus on Trejo’s ins-and-outs with drug addiction, gangs, and prison. But as downright disturbing as some of his stories may be (he tells of his first handshake with heroin at the age of 12 with his Uncle Gilbert, whose life would be claimed by an overdose), the punch of the film comes in the form of redemption and a good heart.

Throughout Champion, Trejo shows no regret for his actions, and by the end, seems oblivious to the demons that have haunted his life. He is grateful for his problematic years, which guided him to help others, who in turn helped him. It’s a struggling user who was a production assistant on the Eric Roberts picture Runaway Train that results in Trejo’s by-chance venture into the film industry. On the set was Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs; also an interviewee), who recognized Trejo from their San Quentin stints and offered him $350 to train Roberts in boxing, which Trejo was a state prison champion in.

Those who knew nothing of Trejo’s bouts with both welterweight boxers and himself may be at first allured by the movie star, thirsty for anecdotes on the business. We’re treated to a few brief stories of Desperado (and, for some reason, simultaneously subjected to Spy Kids clips), but by the end of the brisk 81 minutes, it’s not about the movies—though the commentary from Dennis Hopper, Steve Buscemi, Robert Rodriguez, and others benefits the film.

But, as fascinating of a story Champion told, it isn’t much more than a static memoir captured on video. If Trejo had an extended fanbase, this movie would have been limited to a special on E! The filmmakers seemed to have thrown the piece together, jumping from a question on the street to the answer on a couch. Interviewing the Champion is writer Cecily Gambrell, who on their walks in LA seems more interested in the number of steps she’s taking than her subject’s stories.

If only this film had the intimacy it deserves (where’s the footage of Trejo with his family?). It’s never quite as heartbreaking as it should be, with only a visit to his old San Quentin cell exposing Trejo’s otherwise guarded emotions. Champion is still an inspirational look into the life of a man who (and forget about his movie career) overcame addiction and fatal temptation—would’ve made a damn good autobiographical paperback.
THE EXTRAS
Film Fest Q&A w/ Danny Trejo and director Joe Eckardt (14:49): This was filmed at the Cine Sin Fin Film Festival where it won the award for Best Documentary and goes into how the project came about, as well as diving further into some of the topics discussed in the documentary. Highly informative and a great addition to the feature.

Photographic Journey – San Quentin (1:52) is exactly what it sounds like: stills of Trejo’s trip back to San Quentin Prison.

Outtakes (4:55): Val Kilmer, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Bunker, and Robert Rodriguez share additional stories about Trejo. Worth a watch simply for Kilmer’s humorous tale.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Chances are, only fans of Trejo will be interested enough to give this a rental. Though fairly compelling, the other faults drag the film down for the most part.
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