"Badly written and worse directed by Santiago Segura," the opening credits of "Torrente 3: the Protector" proudly proclaim, cannily leapfrogging the pic's critical reception. Pic is a shameless money-spinner whose plotline, infantile excesses and low gag-strike rate show that the man who was once Spanish film's finest comic talent has zero qualms about selling out.

“Badly written and worse directed by Santiago Segura,” the impressive-looking opening credits of “Torrente 3: the Protector” proudly proclaim, cannily leapfrogging the pic’s critical reception. Pic is a shameless money-spinner whose back-of-the-envelope plotline, infantile excesses and low gag-strike rate show that the man who was once Spanish film’s finest comic talent has zero qualms about selling out. Still, the film drew $8.7 million on its first weekend, recouping its budget with the best opening in Spanish B.O. history — and suggesting the Spanish national psyche requires urgent attention. Offshore prospects don’t look so hot for a project tailor-made to the home crowd.

This third installment of the adventures of overweight, sexist, fascist cop and Hispanic cultural icon Jose Luis Torrente (Segura) opens with a questionable sequence featuring a plane flying into two Madrid skyscrapers — designed, like much of the pic, to tickle the funny bones of 12-year-olds.

Our hero is hired as the bodyguard to Euro MP and ecologist Giannina (Italian thesp Yvonne Scio) after Montellini (Fabio Testi), the head of a non-ecological oil company, has employed Salas (Enrique Villen) to find the most useless bodyguard he can.

Torrente’s domestic life includes Joselito (Jose Mota) and his posh drug addict g.f. Vanessa (Silvia Gambino), his son (comedian Carlos Latre) and aunt (vet Tony Leblanc, whose ailing career the Torrente series has revived). Segura is always watchable as the jaw-droppingly gross Torrente — but most of what happens around him is not. The first, low-budget pic was more credible and warm. The man himself had winsome moments of insecurity that have since disappeared.

Best moments here are those set in the Madrid’s working-class barrios. Pic’s only moment of political correctness comes in a fleeting reference to the dangers of the working conditions of Spanish immigrants.

However, these scenes are rapidly abandoned in favor of a hackneyed, anything-goes storyline involving exploding cars, gunfire and Scio’s breasts. Scatological and sexual comedy motifs harking back to a different era, are trotted out to null effect, though the final scene, set in the White House, has a certain crude brio.

Aside from the high-energy perfs from a variety of oddballs, pic is heavy with cameos from Spanish soccer stars, a couple of singers and, most remarkably, Oliver Stone. Several now-classic jokes from the first movie are desperately recycled.

The action sequences are genuinely impressive.

Torrente 3: The Protector

Spain

Production

A UIP release (in Spain) of an Amiguetes Entertainment production with the participation of Antena 3. (International sales: Amiguetes Entertainment, Madrid.) Produced by Santiago Segura, Maria Luisa Gutierrez. Directed, written by Santiago Segura.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Unax Mendia; editor, Cristina Pastor; music, Roque Banos; art director, Arturo Garcia "Biafra," Jose Luis Arrizabalaga "Arri"; sound (Dolby Digital), Antonio Rodriguez "Marmol." Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, Oct. 9, 2005. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Santiago Segura, Jose Mota, Javier Gutierrez, Yvonne Scio, Carlos Latre, Tony Leblanc, Fabio Testi, Enrique Villen, Silvia Gambino.

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