The horrific events in Mexico are proving fertile ground for black comedy, and though “Saving Private Perez” is certainly not the blackest, it may well be the funniest. Mexico’s most powerful drug lord rounds up a dirty half-dozen compadres to invade Iraq and rescue his kid brother in Beto Gomez’s action-packed laffer, which, despite its title, never limits its parody to Steven Spielberg’s WWII film, borrowing freely from various genres and styles to surprisingly consistent effect. Skedded for September release Stateside through Lionsgate’s Pantelion arm, pic could maximize its crossover potential.
Julian Perez (Miguel Rodarte) is summoned from his lavish mansion by his hospitalized mother (Isela Vega), who fled to the States with his baby brother, Juan, to distance herself from his lawless ways. He discovers that he has one last chance to redeem himself in her eyes: He must find and liberate Juan (Juan Carlos Flores), who enlisted and is now believed captured by Iraqi forces.
Once he figures out Iraq’s whereabouts (next to Holland!), Julian assembles a motley crew of de facto commandos: a retired soldier (Jesus Ochoa); a strategist (Joaquin Cosio); Julian’s childhood Yaqui Indian pal (Gerardo Taracena); a stone-cold young killer (Rodrigo Oviedo) whom they abduct from a maximum-security prison; and a couple of Russians they scoop up en route (Marius Biegai and Alexander Minchenko). Elegant Eladio (Jaime Camil) coordinates from home.
Helmer Gomez, who specializes in improbable juxtapositions (“Pink Punch,” “Caiman’s Dream”), need not look far for homegrown absurdities. The elephants and tigers Julian casually drives past on his ranch are apparently common kingpin accessories; his staring match with a white tiger adds a nice, feral touch. Gomez employs deftly understated touches of Leone-esque attitude, accompanied by Morricone-style musical flourishes, to both establish and ridicule his central character’s epic stature.
Julian’s team lands in Istanbul in full Mexican cowboy regalia, meandering through minaret-dotted cityscapes — an intensely alien environment that extends to the characterless Mexican desert that later substitutes for Iraq. Once there, Gomez delivers a savvy mix of culture-shock gags, exaggerated stunt work and the occasional hilarious extended setpiece.
Gomez’s crisp comic timing and refusal to milk gags keep “Perez” percolating briskly. The film has been criticized for its lighthearted treatment of the deadly narc trade, but its examination of a rich country’s arbitrary occupation of a poor one evokes other unresolved conflicts. The pic’s tremendous popularity at home indicates less an embrace of drug-war heroics than a cockeyed celebration of national identity.
Tech credits are aces in this relatively high-budget production.