Comedies about murder are generally best off avoiding vicious, graphic violence. That laughter buzz-kill is biggest misstep in “Chuecatown,” writer-director Juan Flahn’s first feature following various TV projects and a couple bigscreen scripts. Lively quasi-farce about little old ladies being killed for their apartments in Madrid’s gentrifying gay Chueca quarter is best when it focuses on sympathetic male-couple leads, off-putting when it depicts the killer’s too-nasty deeds. Released July to tepid local response, the pic will nonetheless score gay-fest gigs, specialized offshore DVD release, and select Spanish-language territory tube sales.
Elderly women who refuse to sell their longtime flats are offed by realtor Victor (Pablo Puyol), an immaculately turned-out, Patrick Bateman-style yuppie realtor who’ll stop at nothing to make Chueca the exclusive province of upscale youth, beauty, and gym-toned muscle. Police are stumped, including a cranky veteran detective (Rosa Maria Sarda) and her reluctant partner/son (Eduard Soto, gradually coming out as gay in the pic’s most subtly rewarding story arc.)
Suspicion falls on the guileless working-class domestic partnership of driver’s ed instructor Leo (Pepon Nieto) and underemployed, blabbermouth Rey (Carlos Fuentes). They’re audience charmers, even if being out of shape and lacking sophistication make them far from the superficially perfect gay urban stereotype psycho Victor has decided must take over the neighborhood.
But when Rey’s unexpected inheritance of an apartment from a freshly murdered neighbor facilitates the arrival of his mother, Antonia (Concha Velasco), a demanding gorgon who’s already alienated his sisters, Rey’s relationship with Leo is in for a test, even as Antonia becomes a target for the murderous Victor.
Nearly all older women here are shrill harridans, which still doesn’t soften the impact of deaths staged too unpleasantly like the lingering, voyeuristic strangulations in Hitchcock’s “Frenzy.” Puyol is just fine, but his character’s viciousness (poorly explained in a climactic rant) frequently tips this intended lark’s scales toward mean-spiritedness.
Saving grace is the funny/fond relationship between Leo and Rey, knowingly written and delightfully enacted. Other plusses are brisk pacing, colorful design contributions and slick overall packaging. Pic was reviewed on DVD when the 35mm print failed to arrive in time for the San Francisco Latino Fest opening night, necessitating video projection of a screener.