Illegal Tender

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Illegal Tender Movie Poster Image
Vengeful gangster violence comes to the 'burbs.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Most of the gangsters and drug dealers are obviously villains, but Will also learns that his mother loved his gangster father; her capacity for violence is based on her desire to protect her two sons. Javier's gang is all bad -- their motives are selfish and their methods ruthless.


The film opens with gangsters beating up an old man and continues to get more aggressive in its depictions of injury and death. Violence includes shooting, punching, slapping, kicking, stabbing, and more shooting. The shootouts are loud and feature some slow-motion images that emphasize just how many bullets are fired (lots of missed targets and shot-up walls and windows). Millie keeps an arsenal in her basement; when the bad guys arrive, she has all kinds of fight-back firepower ready. In a flashback scene, a woman commits suicide by taking pills. A climactic murder leaves blood on an important painting (the shot is repeated for emphasis).


Women wear lots of tight shirts, short skirts, skimpy underwear, and bikini tops that show cleavage (shots include close-ups and low-angle views from the rear). An early scene (repeated as a flashback) shows a couple having sex, viewed through a gauzy curtain: The naked woman's profiled breasts are visible. Will complains that his mother is seeing too many different men. Will and Ana kiss passionately on several occasions; in one scene, she "dances" provocatively in his car.


Lots, lots, lots: Many uses of "f--k," plus other profanity: "s--t," a couple of "hells," "damns," and "asses," and "c--k" and "c--ksucker."


Mentions of various product and corporate names, including Microsoft, Calvin Klein, Marlboro Lights, iPod, and Coca-Cola. A grocery shopping scene shows aisles of products, some prominently displayed (including Special K, Fruit Loops, Doritos).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Viewers are told repeatedly that Wilson Sr. is a drug dealer (he's not actually shown dealing or doing drugs). Millie's mother has a drink at home; grown-up Millie drinks wine with her boyfriend; bar scenes show background characters drinking and smoking; Will drinks champagne with Choco; a character overdoses on pills to commit suicide in a flashback. Characters smoke cigarettes and handle boxes of cigarettes during conversations (Will does encourage his mother to quit smoking, at least in the kitchen).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this crime action-thriller about gangsters and drug dealers isn't for kids. It's wildly violent, with frequent bloody shootouts and fights, and it features sexual activity and language and plenty of profanity ("f--k," "s--t," and much more). Since it focuses on a dead dealer's surviving family members as they contend with the many vengeful plots launched by his enemies, the film is structured as a series of violent clashes with dialogue in between -- sort of like a musical, only with noisy gunfire and spurting blood instead of song-and-dance numbers.

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What's the story?

In ILLEGAL TENDER, tough-minded Millie De Leon (Wanda de Jesús) looks after her two sons, Will (Rick Gonzalez) and his half-brother Randy (Antonio Ortiz). Early on, the film underlines the terrible past. As Millie gives birth to Will, Will's drug-dealing father, Wilson Sr. (Manny Perez), is killed by hitwomen of his shadowy associate, Javier (Gary Perez). Millie makes the best of her difficulties, supporting her sons in comfortable style (apparently she's an early Microsoft investor). Their cushy life in the Connecticut suburbs looks to be on course: Will's a recent college grad who makes sure Randy does his homework. But just as 21-year-old Will contemplates moving out, the family's serenity is destroyed.

Is it any good?

While Will's character arc (innocent boy is redefined by manly violence) is plain enough, it's Millie's trajectory that gives the movie its astounding and frequently entertaining energy. It's one of those big fat movie moments. While Millie recalls hot Blaxploitation mamas like Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones, she is, at the same time, a literal mama, defending her sons with alarming élan.

Much of the movie is overwrought and then some, featuring over-explanatory dialogue, sluggish pacing, and not one but two climactic trips to Javier's Puerto Rican headquarters. The shooting is incessant, the rage and betrayal predictable, and the outcome is foregone. But Millie -- she's spectacular.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what messages the movie sends about violence. Does it justify any of the characters' use of violence to deal with conflict? If so, do you agree with the movie's position? Why or why not? What's the appeal of violent action thrillers in the first place? Families can also discuss the role that family plays in the movie. Even though Millie's relationship with her sons is based on some serious lies by omission, how does the film celebrate their loyalty and dedication to one another?

Movie details

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