Fancying itself “a subtropical riposte to ‘Catch 22’ and ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ ” “Captain Pantoja and the Special Service” plays more like “Fitzcarraldo” conducting “Risky Business” at the “MASH.” Though mischievous and irreverent, satire about a straight-arrow army officer in charge of an Amazon River prostie patrol struggles mightily under the twin weights of repetitive situations and formidable length. Glossy item from director Francisco J. Lombardi (“The City and the Dogs”), working again from an underdog-against-unfeeling-system novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, will continue to draw fest interest, but theatrical prospects appear more daunting, with specialty vid business a better bet.
Selected on the strength of his saintliness by military brass to organize a touring unit of distaff “visitors” with the aim of preventing lonely soldiers from pawing the locals, Capt. Pantaleon Pantoja (Salvador Del Solar) at first treats the operation with the no-nonsense efficiency for which he is known. Soon , however, the smashing success of the mission is overshadowed by his growing obsession with one of the women, Olga, nicknamed “La Columbiana” (Angie Cepeda), as well as the growing scandal over the tarty task force.
Story scores obvious points about the absurdity of the military administration early in the proceedings and segues into the steamy, illicit affair with gusto. Yet while assembled party girls are easy on the eyes and Cepeda in particular is breathtaking in numerous sex scenes with hunky Del Solar , significant pruning would improve pace and focus.
Tech credits are impressive, with Teodoro Delgado’s amber lensing evoking the tropics with vivid immediacy. Pic was official Peruvian submission for Oscar consideration.