Joining the burgeoning number of Iraq-related documentaries this week is “G.I. Jesus,” a trippy free-wheeling fictional feature that looks at the war from the vantage point of a young Mexican Marine who has been promised citizenship in return for military service.
The film is a sometimes surreal, sometimes funny, sometimes sloppy (befitting its budget) look at a very real issue. Latinos, most of them from California, comprise (in some estimates) more than a third of the United States’ deployed force in Iraq, and many of them are “Green Card” troops, immigrants who join the military in exchange for the promise of citizenship.
“G.I. Jesus” doesn’t spend much time wondering why a war fought in the name of the United States is being waged by so many foreigners. The movie, written and directed by first-timer Carl Colpaert, is more interested in satire and “Manchurian Candidate”-style surrealism than proselytizing.
But by the end, you can’t help add the questions the film raises to the laundry list of doubts currently circulating about the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Marine Cpl. Jesus Feliciano (Joe Arquette) returns from Iraq to LAX and gets a hearty greeting from his beautiful Dominican wife Claudia (Patricia Mota) and loving
daughter (Telana Lynum). But the good vibrations are short-lived as Jesus gets sucked into a post-traumatic sinkhole that has him seeing people he killed and believing his sexy wife is sleeping with a Brentwood scuzzball.
Colpaert mixes in actual wartime footage, gleaned from a “Frontline” special, to add to the movie’s trippy blend of fact and fiction. Things really get strange during a dinner at the home of Jesus’ commanding officer, where the young man is offered bundles of cash if he joins a covert operations team.
Then Jesus starts hearing the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’ ” everywhere he goes, which would push anyone past their breaking point on the 101st spin.
An hour into things, “G.I. Jesus” takes a dramatic left turn, extending a middle finger to materialism and extolling the virtues of cheap beer and good Mexican food over the killing of innocents. It’s a message that cuts across borders and politics — or at least it should.