Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter

We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.

The tag line for The Gatekeeper reads, “There are two sides to every story…One man stands in the middle.” That man would be director, writer, and star John Carlos Frey, and the two sides to his particular story are that his feature debut pretends to be a social-issues film but is for the most part a tedious vanity project. Frey plays U.S. Border Patrol Agent Adam Fields, a kind of right-wing bad lieutenant whose job just doesn’t offer enough opportunities for sadistic vigilantism. Fields’ real calling is his work with the nativist quasimilitia National Patrol, but even its talk-radio propaganda and terrorizing of border-crossers can’t satisfy this paranoid America Firster. The not-so-surprising twist here—think Henry Bean’s vastly superior The Believer—is that Fields is a closet Mexican. ¡Ay caramba! Given this kind of character motivation, it’s also not so surprising that the presence-free Frey goes for the gusto: A visit to his whore-mamí’s sickbed ends with Fields trashing the kitchen and railing, “No one lay a brown finger on me!” to his estranged family. A scene in which Fields attempts stress-relieving sex with his sorta-WASP-y fiancée (Tricia O’Kelley) is full of the expected sound and fury—but mostly shots that spotlight Frey’s thrusting buttocks. If only the plot had some thrust of its own. But after Fields goes undercover to secretly videotape a border crossing and ends up working alongside the hated illegals as an indentured servant in a methamphetamine lab, The Gatekeeper turns limply schematic. The movie’s supposed virtue is in calling attention to the real-world injustice depicted in its far-fetched scenario. But if that were its maker’s main concern, he should have shot a documentary on the subject: Any film that focused on The Gatekeeper’s substance instead of on Frey’s stylings would almost certainly be better. —Todd Hitchcock