Harsh Times

Institute History


Jim and Mike, two slacker best friends, too smart for their own good, grew up together in South Central. Jim, an ex-Marine whiteboy fluent in Spanish, is still troubled by his experiences in the Persian Gulf War and working on getting into the LAPD. Mike is a Chicano who doesn’t know Spanish and has to find a job at the behest of his lawyer girlfriend, Sylvia. After Mike promises Sylvia he won’t drink, he and Jim split a sixpack on the way to LAPD headquarters. Jim is crushed to learn the LAPD doesn’t want him. So he and Mike grab more beer and head to the barrio, where, on a bet, Jim plans to seduce an ex-girlfriend he’s treated badly. His plans are thwarted when her cholo boyfriend and his homies roll up. But Jim and Mike are plenty street savvy and end up robbing the gangsters, relieving them of money and a gun.

Later, at Jim’s pad, hiding from the real world, they smoke some weed they’ve jacked from a dealer. To keep Sylvia happy, Jim leaves bogus job interview appointments on the machine. That’s when Jim gets a call – the DEA wants him, to join, that is. Despite the fact that he flunked his drug screening and lie detector tests, the DEA boys are so impressed with Jim’s record as a killer in the Gulf War that they invent excuses for his obvious criminality in order to recruit him for their covert “War on Drugs” activities in Latin America.

In an effort to sell the gun they stole, they visit Compton, embarking on a dangerous trek through the L.A. underworld where a pimp is killed in front of their eyes at a Mexican bar. Mike returns home to a frustrated Sylvia who has discovered that she has been tricked and betrayed by him one too many times.

Kicked out of the house, Mike begins his job hunt in earnest and lands a dream job with the Lakers business office. It looks like Jim and Mike might both actually outgrow their adventure seeking in the hood and enter the adult world.

To celebrate, they hook up with another buddy and head off to Mexico after Mike makes up with Sylvia. In rural Ensenada we discover a different Jim as he interacts with his beautiful Indian girlfriend and one true love, Lidia. But when she tells him that she’s pregnant, Jim snaps and pulls a gun on her. Rejecting her love, his only hope for redemption, he rounds up his friends and races back to L.A. Increasingly drug-addled, he’s slathering at the bit to rack up a body count in South America, convinced that a job with the DEA is license to commit crime. After a furious drive, he drops off his friends and disappears into the Los Angeles night.

Before Jim gets a chance to play cop, his demons overwhelm him. He wakes in the morning, hung over, to find a bloody gun and remembers that he shot and killed a cholo the night before. Jim decides to bolt to Mexico but as he and Mike load the car, avenging gangsters arrive and mortally injure Jim in retaliation for the previous night’s murder. Unmercifully conscious, Jim pleads for Mike to shoot him and end his suffering. Mike commits the last ironic killing.

We meet a different Mike many months later. He’s mature and successful and a little sad. He repays his debt to Sylvia and their love rekindles.

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