Money is the root of all disaster in “A Ton of Luck,” a choppy but lively morality comedy-drama with Colombian helmer Rodrigo Triana channeling Robert Aldrich. Yarn is drawn from actual events in 2003, when Colombian soldiers battling narco-guerillas in the jungle stumbled upon their enemies’ booty of $40 million, and subsequently took it for themselves without reporting it to authorities. The sensational story virtually guaranteed big local B.O. when pic opened in August, chart-topping even “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” Colombian foreign Oscar submission’s performance will be milder elsewhere, with some riches to be found in Spanish-lingo vid hideouts.
Buddies Porras (Manuel Jose Chaves), Lloreda (Diego Cadavid), Venegas (Juan Sebastian Aragon) and Perlaza (Carlos Manuel Vesga) are part of the elite but weary “Destroyer” counter-guerrilla unit in the Colombian army. While Porras is a married man, the others are fun-loving bachelors who like to raise hell at strip clubs during R&R. Perlaza takes things one step further –much to his compadres’ amusement — by wanting to marry stripper Dayana (Veronica Orozco).
Once on jungle patrol, however, the men are all business, but soon are caught in an ambush. “A Ton of Luck” is best at what comes after the battle, when the buddies discover buried tubs stuffed with guerrilla cash, which they can’t hide from their commanding officer, Lizarazo (Marlon Moreno).
In the film’s most engaging and revealing passage, the morality of each unit member is tested when they are faced with this temptation. Although Porras refuses to join in, Lizarazo, perhaps out of guilt for pushing the unit to its limits of endurance, orders the men to form a conspiracy of silence in order to keep the money for themselves.
In his first pic for the bigscreen after a decade of TV work, Triana maintains the tension as the unit returns to base. When things turn more satiric — as the men go on leave and indulge in wild spending sprees — the story loses energy and a predictable course toward the men’s final comeuppance takes over.
Nonetheless, the tale is framed between two elegant narrative bookends — including a wonderfully unexpected twist that ends things on a touching note –that suggest this might have been a better film.
In by far the most complex perf, Chaves plays a man who gives every outward sign of refusing temptation. Moreno’s commander registers a fascinating set of emotions as he does what he must to keep his men together, while Vesga captures screen-time in the most overtly comic turn.
Production benefits greatly from Sergio Garcia’s fine lensing in 35mm, and Alberto Ponce’s editing ably handles pic’s various shifts in tone.