Essentially a slick, feature-length chase sequence about a 19th-century gang of mercenaries pursuing a resistance fighter through the Catalan mountains, “Bruc: The Challenge” radically rewrites a Spanish legend for the videogame generation. Potentially rich raw material is served up as an adventure yarn short on characterization and subtlety, and although the pic makes efficient use of time-honored riffs on vengeance, it ultimately delivers little more than a few standard thrills. First weekend B.O. at home was solid but unspectacular; “Bruc’s” biggest challenge will be finding offshore distribs.
The story takes its inspiration from a defeat Napoleon’s troops suffered at the hands of local resistance fighters in 1808, during the Spanish War of Independence. Legend tells that the resistance’s victory was credited to a drummer boy whose drumrolls echoed around the caves and cliff sides so noisily that Napoleon’s soldiers took flight. The film’s hero is one of the conflict’s participants, Bruc (Juan Jose Ballesta), a humble charcoal burner who also happens to be a first-class fighter, hunter and hunk.
After the French have been humiliated, mercenary Maraval (Vincent Perez) receives a message from Napoleon himself telling him to track down and behead the person responsible for the defeat. Maraval puts together a team of grotesques to help him, including one-eyed De La Mata (Santi Millan), hulking Turkish wrestler Attab (Moussa Maaskri), and somewhat sexier Nouaille (Nicolas Giraud).
In two reels’ time, Maraval locates Bruc’s mountain village and burns down his house, kills his family and kidnaps his g.f., Gloria (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Bruc vows revenge, and from then on it’s a cat-and-mouse game all the way, with an increasingly Rambo-like Bruc smearing himself with camouflage paint and picking off his pursuers, one by one, in a series of unlikely but entertaining scenarios.
Presumably lacking the budget for epic setpieces, “Bruc” wisely keeps things visually tight. Indeed, the least successful sequence is a bizarre, implausible re-creation of the French defeat, shot with juddering cameras, which suggests the drumrolls were sufficient to bring boulders down on the heads of the French. Otherwise, special effects are handled efficiently.
After the recent “Among Wolves,” Ballesta is shaping up as the go-to guy to play feral mountain boys. Here, he’s fine in a physically demanding role, and helmer Benmayor exploits his lupine good looks and taut torso more than his indubitable acting skills. The imposing Perez makes a wonderfully ruthless, over-the-top villain, with a fierce gaze that sends wolves scurrying away. Other perfs are cutout.
Though aerial views are overused, Juan Miguel Azpiroz’s crisp lensing fully exploits the majesty of the pic’s mountain regions — not only its sweeping, rocky landscapes but also its shadowy caves and tangled forests. The score is standard orchestral fare, with an attractively melodic theme.
Pic, which has been released in Spain in separate Catalan and Spanish versions, features several scenes of fairly explicit gore.