High-profile Spanish thesp Jordi Molla debuts disappointingly as a director with the self-centered “God Is on Air,” a full-frontal attack on TV that visually makes the most of its decent budget but says nothing new. Script spends too little time on characterization and credibility, while employing the same brain-crunching shock strategies it satirizes. On the back of some high-profile marketing and Molla’s reputation, pic looks likely to open decently at home but probably will fade fast. Offshore buyers are unlikely to worship this “God.”
Salva (Molla) and buddy Angel (Juan Carlos Vellido) are subway beggars who accidentally kill a priest. Salva, whose features are unusually Christlike, is invited on a reality TV show, “Harsh Treatment” (Mano dura), presented by Bigardo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), in which viewers are asked to condemn to death or acquit people who have been arrested. After Salva (whose name derives from the Spanish for “savior”) is reinvented as a preacher and miracle worker, ratings go through the roof and he becomes a star.
Salva falls in with Bigardo’s g.f., Espe (Candela Pena), who hates the world of TV. Seeing how his friend has changed, Angel returns to being a subway beggar; but fame has transformed Salva’s life forever.
Pic is intelligent, though inelegant, in pointing out the similarities between TV and religion. But the fragmented, showy visuals, with digital f/x, rapid-fire editing and a brain-blasting soundtrack, look like a TV ad extended to feature-length.
Pena and Gimenez Cacho bring a quiet realism to several scenes, and vet Florinda Chico (from TV) is terrific as Salva’s mom, Maria.
However, the talented Molla — who turned in one of Spanish cinema’s most beautifully observed perfs of the past decade as a junkie in Ricardo Franco’s 1997 “Lucky Star” — here struggles with his own creation, as Salva shuttles implausibly between being an idiot clown and a lucid commentator on TV’s evils.
Pic is technically dazzling, with Irene Blecua’s editing standing out.