Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SCN: Santiago Segura's TORRENTE 4 -- a dose of in-your-face, Spanish mainstream

Yup, there were a number of walkouts, particularly during the long and generally lifeless "prison" segment that makes up the middle of TORRENTE 4: LETHAL CRISIS, the latest addition to the most successful movie franchise in Spain's history and certainly the most unlikely film choice for many of the folk who frequent the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater. Fortunately, the movie comes to life again for the finale with a set of -- yes! -- car crashes and explosions (and humor) that manage to outdo a lot of what we've already seen. What may keep you in your seat, however, is the long, hilarious and possibly most tasteless opening sequence that yours truly has ever viewed.

The creator of all of this -- he wrote, directed and stars in the film: eat your heart out, Clint Eastwood -- is a fellow named Santiago Segura (shown left), whom many of us will remember from last year's SCN in the also very funny but much more interesting films El Gran Vasquez and The Last Circus. Señor Segura is a Spanish treasure of sorts, another actor (like Javier Merino from yesterday's post) who doesn't mind showing himself off in sometimes the most grotesque and unflat-tering poses. Well, he's a comedian (and a fine one), and grotesque is part of the game these days. As the title character, José Luis Torrente, Segura (below, in character) plays a crappy ex-cop, now an equally bad private investigator, who finds himself working as part of a security force at a wedding involving one of Spain's richest and most powerful families.

The wedding reception scene that opens the film is one for the books: a maybe 15-minute, can't-believe-your-eyes-and-ears gross-out during which one thing tops the next until you know this movie can't go any farther. And then it does. Granted, this scene would be hard to top, or even keep up with, but Segura doesn't even seem to try during that long middle section in which we all go to prison. (Even here, however, he manages a whopper of a visual involving, yes, a shower, a bar of soap, and, oh, my....)

What Segura does, and does very well, is give us his reprobate Torrente as a man without a single redeeming quality (except that he's so damn funny). A Fascistic, Communist-hating, queer-baiting, no-manners pig in every way, Segura (and his satire) goes after everyone and, when it works, leaves the injured parties barely gasping for breath. (Much as he hates gays, of course, Torrente is still more than willing to engage in a little mutual masturbation.)

In prison this aging slacker gets involved with a priest (above) and a cute martial arts kid (below), and there's a soccer game between prisoners and guards and of course the de rigueur prison break. But because most of this is already old-hat and because, as writer and director, Segura doesn't bring much new or interesting about it to the table, this probably accounts, as much as anything, for those walk-outs during the screening. While mainstream audiences can live with (hell, they delight in) oft-told jokes, oft-seen situations, and general repetition, Walter Reade audiences usually demand a bit more. Hence the film's huge success on the home front and less at Lincoln Center. (That said, there were a lot of loud guffaws from those of us who remained in our seats.)

It's no coincidence, I think, that the Warner Brothers logo (with As Time Goes By on the soundtrack) leads us into the film. The studio that brought the world The Hangover and its sequel seems determined to prove that, in its national and international search for an entryway into our pocketbooks, funny, taste-free films will always do the trick.

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