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Zapping

Second-time helmer Chumilla Carbajosa gives free rein to a tech-inspired imagination in the interestingly bad "Zapping," a surreal, formally confused but visually daring take on the power of the televised image. Critically lambasted at home, pic is intriguing and bewildering in equal proportions, but its desire to actually say something (plus a genuinely engaging first half-hour) lifts it above most other local summer fare.

Second-time helmer Chumilla Carbajosa gives free rein to a tech-inspired imagination in the interestingly bad “Zapping,” a surreal, formally confused but visually daring take on the power of the televised image. Critically lambasted at home, pic is intriguing and bewildering in equal proportions, but its desire to actually say something (plus a genuinely engaging first half-hour) lifts it above most other local summer fare.

“Zapping” begins with a five-minute video summary of 20 years of Spanish history, intercut with images of the relationship between Ana Maria (Natalia Dicenta) and Alberto (Alberto San Juan) — a potentially interesting comment on how videos shape our memories, which then duly fails to develop into anything. Having abandoned Ana Maria, sci-fi fan Alberto lives with Elvira (screen newcomer Paz Vega), while Ana Maria stews in jealousy juice.

Elvira’s ex-b.f., Ramiro (Eduard Fernandez), enters the lovers’ apartment and hides there for the pic’s first half-hour. Meanwhile, we see a TV program called “Where Are They,” based on events from two years earlier, which reveals that Ramiro, after being left by Elvira, not only attacked a subsequent b.f. but is now on the loose, unhinged and ready to take revenge on her. Ramiro’s twin brother, Ramon (also played by Fernandez), is leading the hunt for him.

The efficiently compact, thriller-ish opening sets up more trails than the script can deal with — there are three relationships, two jealous lovers and a psychopath on the screen, as well as a “Truman Show”–type message to sell — and the script runs into terrible problems with chronology and credibility. Though visually memorable in the hundreds of rapid-fire images thrown at the audience, pic veers giddily in tone from the occasionally comic, via the surreal , to the genuinely chilling. Some stuff about UFOs is also thrown in.

Fernandez does a good psychopath-by-numbers job, but the busy plotting leaves no time for character development. As Alberto, San Juan comes across at first as passive, then as merely brainless. But Vega, maximizing her sex appeal, shows star potential as Elvira.

Technically, pic is full of good things in a cut-rate Oliver Stone way, particularly in its use of the background drone of TV sets for almost its entire length.

Zapping

(SATIRICAL THRILLER -- SPANISH)

Production: An Aurum release (in Spain) of an Aurum Producciones production, in association with Antena 3 and with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Aurum, Madrid.) Produced by Francisco Ramos. Executive producers, Fernando de Garcillan, David B. Allen. Directed, written by Chumilla Carbajosa. Camera (color), Teo Delgado; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; music, Miguel Franco, Alejandro Ibanez; art director, Angel Haro; sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Rejas. Reviewed at ABC El Saler, Valencia, Aug. 9, 1999. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Alberto San Juan, Natalia Dicenta, Eduard Fernandez, Paz Vega.

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