Spanish wit and canny self-publicist Santiago Segura makes his feature debut with the deliriously non-p.c. “Torrente, the Wrong Arm of the Law,” a tremendously enjoyable comedy-thriller that comes with top production backing from heavyweight producer Andres Vicente Gomez. Home auds will love it; in non-Spanish-speaking territories, only clever marketing will prevent this one-man vehicle from collapsing under the weight of local jokes and subtitling difficulties.
Segura, who has featured in Alex de la Iglesia’s “Day of the Beast” and “Perdita Durango,” as well as helming award-winning shorts, makes a good living being one of Spanish TV’s less attractive faces, with a nice line in self-deprecating humor. (Pic’s local ad campaign has the slogan, “Just when you thought Spanish cinema was getting better”). The occasionally pointed script and nothing-is-sacred attitude suggest Segura could deliver some sharp satire in the future, but this time around he’s played it strictly for laughs.
Plot is typical low-budget action thriller. Down-and-out ex-cop Torrente (Segura), who continues to work as though he hasn’t been fired from the force, lives with his aged father (Tony Leblanc), whom he sends out in a wheelchair every day to beg, even though the old man can walk. Meanwhile, Torrente makes friends with gun-worshipping nerd Rafi (Javier Camera) in order to score with Rafi’s nymphomaniac cousin, Amparito (Neus Asensi), who works in a back-street fish shop.
After his father eats a spring roll and almost dies, Torrente realizes local gangs are smuggling heroin via a Chinese restaurant. Sensing glory, he gets a group of Rafi’s friends together to bust the drug ring.
Plot is a frame on which to hang a lot of verbal and sight gags, with the occasional film ref thrown in. Most gags are quite funny in an adolescent way, and practically always gross: Segura isn’t afraid, for example, to milk the comic potential of an actress with Down’s syndrome.
In Torrente, Segura has created a super-realistic caricature — dirty, drunk, sexist, racist and terminally unlucky — the kind of guy who steals women’s underwear, doesn’t know what chopsticks are for, and breaks immigrants’ fingers. There are occasional moments of humanity in the pic, particularly in Torrente’s relationship with his father, but they inevitably make way for the next one-liner. Still, the laddish exuberance of Segura’s central perf makes it all work. The director-actor-writer has succeeded in making the kind of film that, for the past 15 years, most Spanish producers have been trying hard not to make.
Other perfs, from a crew of generally familiar Spanish faces, are good, and include many crowd-pleasing cameos. Physically frail Tony Leblanc, returning to film after a 15-year layoff, and Javier Camara, as Torrente’s comic foil Rafi, are standouts. Almost incidentally, pic is excellent in its details of life on the streets in a poor neighborhood of Madrid. Tech credits are pro.