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Mandrill

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/11/10 18:00:09

"A hitman who will kill you deadpan."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It is, perhaps, possible to tell just how well-done a parody is by how long it's able to convince you that it's the real thing. "Mandrill" presents an exceptionally straight face, to the extent that it can come across as simply adopting a style even after it's done some pretty crazy things, and not just because the action is for real.

Mandrill (Marko Zaror) is the number one hitman in Chile, although he seems to limit his targets to gangsters. He has finally landed his dream target, having been asked to eliminate the man who murdered his parents when he was a boy - "The Cyclops" - but the only person who knows where the man is located is his daughter Dominique (Celine Reymond). So it's time to break out the seduction playbook, although Dominique may prove to be a tough nut to crack, even without considering the bodyguards.

The "thanks" section of the credits makes it clear that James Bond was a major influence on Mandrill; not only is Ian Fleming listed, but so are all six actors to play the character in the United Artists/Eon film series. The tone of the film is certainly early Bond, with Zaror giving off the same sort of vibe as Connery, a tough guy stuffed into a good suit, but brimming with enough self-confidence to make him mostly irresistible to the ladies, and able to shrug off the dangerous madness of his life. Writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza locates the line between loving homage and out outright parody and hugs it, occasionally making a quick hop to the other side just long enough for the audience to see him over there but brief enough for it to play as black comedy rather than spoofery.

Of course, this doesn't work without his regular collaborator Marko Zaror in the leading role. Zaror, a fine stuntman and martial artist who wasn't the greatest actor when I saw him a couple years ago in Kiltro, puts his imposing physicality to good use as Mandrill. He's a guy who means business, but he can also sell a dramatic moment now, and he can make deadpan comedy work (there's a big difference between just standing there a few extra seconds until the director yells cut and giving just the right look). He's also a fairly exceptional screen fighter - guys with his height and bulk seldom manage the lift and acrobatics he manages, and the long, slow-motion shots give us an idea of just how much skill he and his opponents (whom Zaror trained and choreographed) have.

Celine Reymond complements him nicely. Yes, she's beautiful, but it's an expressive beauty - she can get a big laugh by rolling her eyes, and given that her character is assigned a number of different roles over the course of the movie, she does a rather impressive job of never making Dominique seem schizophrenic or out of character. Alejandro Castillo is another fun bit of the cast, playing Mandrill's Uncle Chone as both a funny ladies' man and a responsible foster parent.

A lot of his scenes, do, admittedly, feel like they're stretching the movie a bit. Mandrill is 90 minutes long - just long enough to be a full-length feature in the public eye - which includes a fair amount of flashbacks to Chone raising younger versions of Zaror's character, "Jack Colt" movie pastiches that influenced Mandrill growing up, and a few points where it feels like the movie could and maybe should have ended with the previous scene. Espinoza is meticulous with the movie's tone - the broader parody of the Colt bits and the pieces with young Mandrill could have thrown the tone of the movie off but don't. It's a better job of stretching to the hour and a half mark than one usually sees.

"Mandrill" is not the most polished action movie in a lot of places, but give Espinoza and Zaror credit - they start their movie off with an extended "where's Waldo" gag and keep us from treating it like an "Austin Powers" or "OSS 117"-style spoof. That takes skills, just like jumping six feet in the air, backflipping, and kicking a gun out of someone's hand.

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