186 Dollars to Freedom


If one were to base one’s knowledge of South America solely on the movies set there that make their way into theaters in these United States, one could be forgiven for taking away the impression that the continent’s entire population is evenly divided between unwashed prisoners and aviator-shade-wearing secret police, and that its only industries are dilapidation and torture. This impression would certainly be reinforced by 186 Dollars to Freedom, which is “Based on a True Story” by scriptwriter Monty Fisher, dramatizing his own life-and-death ordeal with the help of journeyman director Camilo Vila. It’s spring of 1980 in Lima, Peru, on the eve of the country’s first democratic election in a generation, when American surfer Wayne Montgomery (John Robinson), Fisher’s alter ego, is picked up for an expired visa, slapped with a trumped-up drug rap, and held in a dingy prison among socialist dissidents and striking schoolteachers while his captors attempt to extort money from his parents in Beverly Hills. A particular genius of execution would be required to make a viewer experience the inside of a police-state prison as though for the first time, and on every level this production—from Robinson’s callow performance to Vila’s hackneyed handheld camerawork, punching beats in the stead of the actors—remains firmly on the level of the obvious.