This review was corrected on Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Rio de Janeiro’s most famous landmark, the Christ the Redeemer statue towering high over the city, is the blasphemous title character in “Redeemer,” an acid comedy about the poor and homeless that asks, “If God exists, why doesn’t He do something?” Driven by two popular young comics, Claudio Torres’ helming debut wittily exposes Brazil’s rich-poor divide, as a reporter finds himself embroiled in a real estate magnate’s bankruptcy. Solid fest exposure beginning at Berlin could give this irreverent small pic, blessed with a wealth of amusing visual effects, the launch it needs to click with hip overseas auds.
Poor Celio and rich Otavio are childhood playmates. Otavio’s father builds houses and Celio’s father signs up for one of 480 new apartments in Paradise Condos, a high-rise surrounded by 20,000 slum-dwellers.
Thirty years later, the condo is ready, but Otavio’s father is bankrupt. When he jumps out the window, his scheming son (Miguel Falabella) takes over his debts.
Celio (Pedro Cardoso), who works for a daily newspaper, angrily interviews Otavio, and reminds him that their apartment, paid for with huge sacrifice, has never been handed over to his own dying father. Clouding the moral issue is the fact that Paradise Condos has been overrun by squatters from the ghetto, including the builder’s unpaid workers and their families. Using pretty Soninha (Camila Pitanga) as a model, the incensed Celio plants an incendiary photo in his paper that sets off a national scandal, causing police to invade the building and destroy it.
The ever-clever script twists again when Otavio tempts Celio into a money-laundering scam. Suddenly Celio has a vision of God — personified by the Redeemer statue — demanding the impossible: that he gets Otavio to repent and redistribute his ill-gotten wealth to the poor.
Thrown into a filthy, overcrowded jail, Celio is “electrified” by Jesus during a thunderstorm, brings an old man back to life, and leads the filthy cons through the sewer to freedom.
Nice guy Cardoso grabs sympathy with his reporter’s moral aplomb before switching to screaming over-the-top mode following his meetings with God. Falabella is a predictable smoothie, equally intimate with government ministers and Bolivian con men. Strutting her stuff in the supporting comic role of Celio’s long-suffering mother, Fernanda Montenegro swings from economic victim to pillar of greed in pic’s biblical final scenes.
Torres, who has a background in directing commercials, knows how to set the pace with visuals and music, only stumbling occasionally over the plethora of minor characters. Bringing the Redeemer to life like some Frankenstein’s monster, Fabio Soares hotwires an array of ironic CGI work around cinematographer’s Ralph Strelow’s stridently inventive visuals. Mauricio Tagliari and Luca Raele’s music is a laugh, borrowing from opera to film melodrama and, naturally, church choirs.