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Mutant Action!
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by Jay Seaver

"Sing it with me: 'Acción Mutante!'"
4 stars

Alex de la Iglesia's recent movies, things like "Ferpect Crime" and "800 Bullets" are peculiar, off-center entertainments. The closest American analog I can think of is Sam Raimi. And like Raimi, his early works are as delightfully strange as they are obviously low-budget.

"Acción Mutante", in the film, is the name of a group of unattractive and disabled terrorists who strike back against the attractive people who control society. With their leader Ramon Yarritu (Antonio Resines) in jail, though, they tend to screw up on a regular basis. Once Ramon is released, they set about on a new mission - to kidnap beautiful heiress Patricia Orujo (Frederique Feder) and hold her for ransom. The kidnapping becomes a bloodbath, the kidnappers turn on each other, and the hostage develops Stockholm Syndrome.

Don't let Pedro and Agustin Almodovar's names in the credits as producers fool you; this is no classy art film. You've got your basic cheap special effects, black comedy galore (I dare you not to laugh at news footage of MA taking out an aerobics class), and gore, gore, gore. Blood and body parts all over the place, really, and that's after considering that the kidnappers are already on the grotesque side. This is the kind of film that is all about grabbing attention. It doesn't really need to make a whole lot of sense, so long as it keeps the audience cringing or laughing at the latest outrageous thing thrown at it, and if people with the money to mount larger productions say, hey, this de la Iglesia fellow has style, so much the better.

In fact, once you get past the concept, the spiffy opening credits, and the catchy theme music, the whole thing is actually rather silly. None of the characters are really motivated to do anything that they do; they just act on authorial fiat to get the audience to the next scene of outrageous violence. Along the way, there's great amusement to be had at the empty-headed pretty people at Patricia's party - Enrique San Francisco as "Luis Maria de Ostalaza, the outraged groom" made me laugh very hard just by looking stupid - to Ramon's eye-rolling annoyance at Patricia's declarations of adoration, as if this sort of thing has happened to him before. And the bloodletting is staged in an entertaining way, much of it transpiring on a spaceship set that is sort of beautiful in its cheapness - Caro/Jeunet grimy but also sort of retro-cool.

In the end, "Mutant Action" amused me much more than it probably had any right to. It's right on the border between "deliberately campy" and "overcoming its budget", and the messiness of its script annoyed me. It's got the exuberance of a young and talented filmmaker breaking into the scene, which is not only exciting, but also interesting once you've seen the man's later, more polished, films.

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originally posted: 01/15/06 03:04:33
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  DVD: 23-Oct-2002



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