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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.76%
Worth A Look42.86%
Average: 28.57%
Pretty Bad: 4.76%
Total Crap: 19.05%

2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Perdita Durango
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite the cult classic it could have been."
4 stars

I thought I'd seen "Perdita Durango" as part of an Álex de la Iglesia series at the Brattle Theatre (or possibly their all-too-brief Boston Fantastic Film Festival), possibly under the title "Dance with the Devil", but I must have been up to something else that evening, because I surely would have remembered this bit of madness, right? Maybe not; it's well-made stream-of-consciousness madness, but maybe not quite haunting or horrifying in the way that the best movies of that variety can be.

Perdita (Rosie Perez) is already not one to mess around with at the start, scaring off the men trying to pick her up as she hangs around the border until she meets up with Romeo (Javier Bardem), who has recently robbed both a bank and a grave and knows he's less likely to get searched with a partner in the passenger seat. He's got a lucrative job coming up, driving a semi full of human embryos to a cosmetics lab, but figures he should boost his power beforehand with a Santeria ritual sacrifice; Perdita picks out lily-white American couple Duance (Harley Cross) and Estelle (Aimee Graham) as likely candidates. And while FBI agent Dumas (James Gandolfini) is already on their tail, they're just as likely to get caught up in their own combustibility as run afoul of the law.

Though the film takes its name from its female lead (as does Barry Gifford's original novel 59 Degrees and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango), it's not unfair to say that, story-wise, she's passing through Romeo's narrative - the plan comes to him, most of the supporting characters come from his backstory, much happens on his ranch, etc. It's a tribute to how strong Rosie Perez's work is that she never seems like a supporting character, even before the film tilts a bit more in her direction during the later stretches; she gives a forceful performance that suggests a fully-defined character with only the bare minimum of description of what got her to this point. This could be either a movie about her as a force of chaos that pushes Romeo to new depths or how her being a mess at this moment has her being pulled into his orbit, but it's built so that she can be both and neither.

So much of the story running through Romeo nevertheless makes the movie a feast for Javier Bardem as well, and he's a blast, the sort of charismatic monster who has given a fair amount of thought to the symbolism of his rituals but absolutely wings an armed robbery. You can see he's fallen hard for Perdita and is generally romantic about his outlaw nature without ever softening how psychopathic he is in other areas. In some ways, Romeo is Perdita's counterpart, an apparent protagonist that's actually a supporting character. There's a deep bench around them, too, with James Gandolfini playing some absurdity straight and appearing fully-formed as Dumas, Aimee Graham & Harley Cross making a hostage arc work much better than it usually does, and Demian Bichir a treat in his one scene.

The thing about having such a good cast so completely invested is that one can wind up with the sort of movie that is so into its own weird, nasty world that it's hard to tell right away whether it will linger or just not be able to form any connections with other synapses at all. It certainly establishes right away that de la Iglesia is a natural at this sort of nasty pulp; he jumps right in, and keeps heaping more on even though he started pretty much over the top, and is able to cruise for a couple hours without exhausting the viewer by getting too far out or triumphantly linking back to something familiar. It's a tricky balance to manage; the story is built around nihilism and envelope-pushing, but the filmmakers never seem self-satisfied about how cruel they're being. De la Iglesia and his co-writers (including original novelist Gifford and regular collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría) inject a certain amount of pop-cultural self-awareness into the film, but there's usually a clear point to the references, not just a list of favorites. It's nifty-looking without ever seeming too slick or too deliberately shaggy.

The new 4K disc of the original cut, BTW, looks terrific without being ostentatious about it, as is fitting - it's weird but surprisingly digestible for how twisted parts are. It makes for an entertaining movie that sometimes feels like it should be more unsettling - no bad thing, but not exactly the cult classic that the film is sometimes presented as.

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originally posted: 04/02/21 09:00:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/02/05 Corky Hellishly original, bizarre, and sardonically humorous. Where's your sense of humor, guys? 4 stars
4/08/04 brett i liked all the fuck scenes,its good wanking material 4 stars
8/23/01 Alan Madlane First rate mexicali splatter punk travelog with a soft Burt Lancaster heart 5 stars
7/26/01 Reini Urban good entertainment, nothing more. some good moments. 4 stars
7/21/01 Aaron F. Great cinematography, but pictures don't mean much unless you care. 2 stars
5/26/01 caida Over exposure of the real thing, this movie should not have been made at all! 1 stars
7/18/00 mick mayombe the main problem in this film are the characters. i couldn't give a shit about any of them 1 stars
4/01/00 Tino Slaut Tries desperately to be hip/modern/cool. Comes across as repellent/pointless/cold. 1 stars
12/19/99 anonymous After 45 minutes I had stopped watching. 1 stars
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  21-Dec-1999 (R)
  DVD: 28-Dec-1999


  01-Oct-1998 (R)

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