“Bellini and the Sphinx’s” loyalty to Hollywood whodunits may dampen its Brazilian flavor, but ultra-commercial gumshoe item scored a hefty 75,000 admissions in its local run from March to June, partly based on the strong name recognition of TV star Fabio Assuncao, starring as conflicted detective Bellini. Due to its generic nature, however, the most export biz this slick murder mystery can plan on is the greater Portuguese market.
Working under the cool supervision of Sao Paolo detective agency head Dora Lobo (Eliana Guttman), Bellini tracks down clues in the case of a missing hooker that lead him to an Armenian-Brazilian pediatrician, Dr. Rafidjian (Paulo Hesse), who may or may not have had an affair with the tart. Early encounters — with a feverish drug dealer (Claudio Gabriel) and an exotic dancer named Fatima (Malu Mader) — have all the trappings of distractions from the real case to come.
Sure enough, when Rafidjian is found murdered, suspicion begins to point toward his family. With unexpected ease, Lobo’s newest detective, Beatriz (Maristane Dresch), manages to make progress where Bellini stumbles, and the final 30 minutes tend to only confirm hints dropped early.
Under Roberto Santucci Filho’s helming, the Sao Paolo background grows indistinct, to the point that the setting could be any big city. This is of a piece with the rote plotting, based on Tony Bellotto’s novel, which brings little that’s unexpected to the process of uncovering the mystery of Rafidjian’s killer.
Assuncao works up some serious sexual heat with Mader, but otherwise is a fairly bland, though handsome, presence. Dresch has more fun playing around with various identities, but only within pic’s strict creative restraints. Production values play up a certain luxuriousness, but action scenes are wooden.