Spanish producer Eduardo Campoy returns to helming after a five-year layoff with the ambitious serial-killer movie "To the Limit." Though slickly made and visually strong, pic all too clearly shows its roots in the predominantly U.S. genre and ends up as no more than an exercise in style. A pre-Xmas release slot and good marketing translated into respectable home B.O., but the movie's lack of an authentic sense of place is more likely to hinder than help foreign sales.

Spanish producer Eduardo Campoy returns to helming after a five-year layoff with the ambitious serial-killer movie “To the Limit.” Though slickly made and visually strong, pic all too clearly shows its roots in the predominantly U.S. genre and ends up as no more than an exercise in style. A pre-Xmas release slot and good marketing translated into respectable home B.O., but the movie’s lack of an authentic sense of place is more likely to hinder than help foreign sales.

Though the film has its moments, a general air of unbelievability means the chills remain lukewarm throughout. Pic opens up a potentially interesting debate on the immorality of the murder-glamorizing media only to shoot itself in the foot by glamorizing murder itself.

Elena (a weary-looking Beatrice Dalle, dubbed) is a ratings-driven latenight radio host whose show is interrupted by a call from Javier (Juanjo Puigcorbe), telling her she has an hour to prevent his next murder. Javier is a killer who does it for pure pleasure, thus liberating scripters from the tedious job of making him psychologically interesting.

The call is overheard by a lawyer, Maria (Spanish soap star Lydia Bosch), who after the murder puts together an investigation team that includes — yes! — Javier, who turns out to be a criminal psychologist specializing in serial killers. She soon finds herself struggling against him, Elena’s desire to push up her ratings, and a role that is low on plausibility. As well as finding him strangely attractive, she suspects he’s the killer; he spends most of the pic dropping clues to help her. What tension there is comes from how close she’ll come to dying before she finds the vital clue.

There are a couple of watchable set pieces, including one, shot through a rain-spattered window, of Javier attempting to kill Maria. But they are outnumbered by once-sexy, now cliched stylistic tics: Bespectacled investigators feverishly tapping at computer keyboards and close-ups of blurry video images. (Campoy envisages contemporary Madrid as a high-tech paradise, which it is not.)

Puigcorbe, best known in Spain for his comic roles, makes an unlikely serial killer, with his flashy suits and impeccable manners. Italian thesp Bud Spencer’s role as a goodhearted cop and father figure to Maria could have been cut without damage to the movie. Tech credits are superb.

To the Limit

(SPANISH-FRENCH)

Production

A Columbia TriStar (Spain) release of a Cartel, Enrique Cerezo (Spain)/ACT-Auditel (France) production, in association with TVE. (International sales: Cartel, Madrid.) Produced by Enrique Cerezo, Eduardo Campoy. Co-producers , Antonio da Cunha Telles, Giuseppe Pedersoli, Paola Corvino. Directed by Eduardo Campoy. Screenplay, Agustin Diaz Yanes, Luis Marias, Carlos Perez-Merinero. Camera (color), Armand Marco; editor, Luis Manuel del Valle; music, Mario de Benito; art direction, Javier Fernandez; sound (Dolby), Gilles Ortion; associate producer, Mario Pedraza. Reviewed at Cines El Mirador, Seville, Dec. 20, 1997. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Javier Barea ..... Juanjo Puigcorbe Maria Ramos ..... Lydia Bosch Elena ..... Beatrice Dalle Elorza ..... Bud Spencer
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