An uneven but exuberantly anarchic comedy homage to the spaghetti Western, "800 Bullets" reps writer-director Alex de la Iglesia's best work since his groundbreaking "Day of the Beast" (1995).
An uneven but exuberantly anarchic comedy homage to the spaghetti Western, “800 Bullets” reps writer-director Alex de la Iglesia’s best work since his groundbreaking “Day of the Beast” (1995). Scoring some $900,000 during its first weekend in mid-October, pic has marginally missed the B.O. bull’s-eye at home, but de la Iglesia’s perennial reputation as one to watch, along with all the good old-fashioned fun it contains, has already seen “Bullets” fly beyond the Hispanic world into a couple of major offshore territories.
Genre-hopping helmer has struggled to find appropriate dramatic channels for his comic book imagination, but finds it this time around. Pic features a more human side than de la Iglesia’s previous work, courtesy of a spectacular central perf from vet Sancho Gracia which intermittently makes it more dark and complex than first appearances suggest.
Opening credits are eye-catching, as feisty youngster Carlos (Luis Castro), his imagination fired by seeing old photos of his dead father, heads off to Almeria, southeast Spain, with his mother’s credit card to find the truth about him. Carlos leaves behind his bitchy businesswoman mother, Laura (Carmen Maura), and paternal grandmother (Terele Pavez).
In Almeria, Carlos finds his grandfather, Julian (Gracia), an aging alcoholic and one-time stuntman who now drones on about how he doubled for Clint Eastwood (“I made 50 films, and had speaking parts in seven of them”) and runs Western-style shows for tourists on a dilapidated spaghetti Western set, along with a grotesque team of sidekicks headed by Cheyenne (Angel de Andres Lopez). Julian is thought to be responsible for the death of Carlos’ father in a stunt accident years earlier.
After the “Indians” (played in the show by illegal immigrants) are caught with hashish, the team is arrested. But Carlos’ credit card liberates them and the boy becomes a part of the team.
Plot is ad hoc, the only tension added when Laura turns up on the set to reclaim Carlos and hatches the idea of turning the set into a theme park. The decision of the team to defend their territory with 800 real bullets leads into an over-extended, rowdy final reel.
Secondary perfs are efficient and sometimes eye-catching, with Maura and vet Pavez (both in de la Iglesia’s previous pic “Common Wealth”) standing out. However, the only characters to transcend their stereotypes are those played by debutante Castro, whose wide-eyed innocent Carlos looks totally natural, and the imposing, bulldog-like Gracia as his granddad. Pic was specifically written for the latter.
Gracia dominates every scene, creating an over-the-top Julian who is a combination of brutishness and weakness, at times touching genuine pathos as an old fighter who refuses to let go his grip on a childish fantasy. One small dialogue scene between Julian and ex-wife Rocio briefly takes pic into tragedy, bringing a dark undertow briefly to the surface.
Despite de la Iglesia’s ability to shoot big action scenes on a low budget, the film is actually better in its quieter, dialogue-based moments, particularly those between Julian and Carlos. Helmer has yet to shoot a totally coherent script, and the often-meandering movie, with its cast of thousands, is no exception. For every two decent gags, there is one that seems pointless and ill judged, and things take a dramatic dive whenever the story takes us back to the Laura.
Wild choreography during one barroom dance set piece is nicely done, if over-long. Realistic detail on the ramshackle spaghetti Western set is good, the eye-catching desertscapes are all dust and scorching sun, and Roque Banos’ score nicely parodies Western fare. Lensing by Flavio Labiano is appropriately hyper-active. For the record, nudity, strong language and in-your-face violence are never far away.