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You Only Live Once
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by Jay Seaver

"Hiding a good caper in a minor comedy."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Boy, is "You Only Live Once" a mess, starting from a solid thriller set-up, moving through some genuinely inventive action beats, before spending the bulk of the film in a hackneyed plot that overlooks some pretty darn basic things in order to make the "hiding-out" comedy work, before getting back into some over-the-top action toward the end. It's a genuinely dumb script that decides on a tone but not really a cast, often seeming to make things up as it goes along.

Leonardo Andrade (Peter Lanzani) is the guy who will eventually need to hide out, as he and lady friend Flavia (Eugenia Suárez) are setting up a schlub (Carlos Areces) whose job as a "food engineer" sounds ridiculous but apparently pays well and merits security - at least until ruthless French businessman Duges (Gérard Depardieu) shows up and demands he fork over the formula for the new preservative he's created. Soon enough, Leonardo has a blackmail tape of murder rather than infidelity as well as a flash drive people will kill for, so he's got to hide. Fortunately, there's a bus to a dormitory where Orthodox Jews from all over the country are having a sort of encounter group, so "Pablo Cohen" gets on board. New roommate Yosi (Dario Lopilato) sees something is up immediately, but both his fiancee Sara (Arancha Marti) and Rabbi Mendi (Luis Brandoni) seem to have taken a shine to Pablo, so Sara, Yosi, and Leonardo's estranged brother Agustín (Pablo Rago) - a priest! - get drawn in when Duges starts sending assassins to sniff Leonardo out.

There's something rather tacky about this sort of story - it lends itself to the broadest possible stereotypes while things only seem to get worse as the jokes get walked back (look, these guys are mostly like regular people!). Screenwriters Sergio Esquenazi and Axel Kuschevatzky mostly avoid that - Yosi, Sara, and Mendi have their eccentricities which certainly get exaggerated by their background but would probably be oddballs regardless - but there are still a lot of moments where someone might squint and wonder if Leonardo's first encounter with a specifically Jewish thing really counts as an actual joke in 2017. Thankfully, they and director Federico Cueva are often able to turn that into energy - Leonardo's enthusiasm for a certain group that is not necessarily thought of as Jewish first and not pausing when confronted with neo-nazis are at least fun, and an example of how the filmmakers are not necessarily going to get methodical and over-serious as the plot takes over - which is not necessarily something that a lot of action-comedies can say.

Peter Lanzani makes a cheerful scoundrel of a star here. He sells the improvised escapes better than the times when he's got to be a flat-out action hero, and he never seems to lose enthusiasm for the material, stopping just short of winking at the audience but making Leonardo naturally seem enough of a fast talker to to make it work. He's able to create enjoyable chemistry no matter what cast members he's paired with, which is good, because there are a fair amount that enter and exit based on either the needs of the moment or the jokes that the filmmakers want to squeeze in, though both Dario Lopilato and Pablo Rago do good work being frustrated with this pest, and Lanzani brings out a litte more humanity when his scenes with the latter touch on their family history. There's a good group of Euro-trash villains, too - while Gerard Depardieu is mostly picking up a paycheck and a free trip to Buenos Aires, he's able to create some genuine menace to go with the darkly comic bits, and Santiago Segura and Hugo Silva are both pretty good as the guys on the ground. I wish there was more for the women in the picture to do, because both Eugenia Suarez and Arancha Marti are a lot of fun.

The action sometimes seems to be a little too big to be thrilling - gigantic explosions that are basically jokes about how much overkill is going on and machine-gun fire that really should hit more fleeing characters if only by accident - but that's probably better than too gritty for a action-comedy that is this silly most of the time. The funny thing is, it's actually got a few genuinely impressive bits of action, too - the way Cueva puts together the scene of Leonardo and Flavia setting up their mark brings a snappier caper movie to mind, and the way that sequence ends with a bed going out the window is memorable enough to stick out as well-done even in the middle of a festival full of great action films. I'm not sure how many movies of this apparent scale come out of Argentina on a yearly basis, but it's slick enough in the big scenes to hold its own with the rest of the world.

It makes the "gentile hiding out in an Orthodox community" thing that occupies most of the movie especially frustrating; it's not so fertile a concept with such big laughs that it can avoid feeling like a step down, and it means that the film is switching up its personality twice - from slick caper to middling sitcom to action spoof - and the attempts to connect the three, while more often successful than not, never truly get You Only Live Once back up to the level where it started.

It hangs together much better than it could, though, and it spreads the parts that work (Lanzanik, Depardieu, and a few nifty set pieces) around well enough that somebody watching the film will seldom find themselves bored. It's good enough, at least, that I'd like to see Cueva and Lanzni have a second shot at doing something like this, no matter what this one's title suggests about its likelihood.

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originally posted: 10/20/17 15:40:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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