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Taking a page from Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" playbook, self-taught Chilean director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza pulls off a low-budget superhero movie all the more endearing for knowing its own limitations.

With: Marko Zaror, Maria Elena Swett, Ariel Mateluna, Mauricio Pesutic, Ivan Jara.

Taking a page from Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” playbook, self-taught Chilean director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza pulls off a low-budget superhero movie all the more endearing for knowing its own limitations. Unlike his Marvel and DC forebears, the blue-suited vigilante in “Mirageman” is an ordinary nightclub bouncer with no superpowers to speak of — he cries, he takes the bus — but actor Marko Zaror’s martial-arts training and kickboxer physique more than compensate. If the helmer shows half Rodriguez’s moxie, he’ll be making studio pics in no time.

Already something of an underground sensation, Espinoza’s shoestring genre pics have been winning North American fans on the festival circuit, where auds are more apt to embrace a subtitled, half-million-dollar extravaganza (which has already broken even in Chile). Comedy comes relatively cheap, but action is another matter, and Espinoza grasps his craft firmly enough to deliver both.

Though not necessarily engineered for laughs, “Mirageman” earns them easily enough by reality-checking the details other superhero movies skip over, or by using not-quite-perfect takes. For example, chasing a gang of muggers into an alley, Maco Gutierrez (Zaror) ducks behind a dumpster and changes clothes — a process that takes so long, it’s a wonder the criminals are still around when he finally buckles his fanny-pack utility belt.

Urged on by an ambitious female newscaster (Maria Elena Swett) he rescued, Maco provides his email address to the public. Immediately, suspicious help requests and wannabe sidekicks are flooding his inbox.

But Maco’s common sense isn’t nearly as sharp as Spidey’s. The thick-headed hero (who builds extra backflips into his action routines and spends most of his alone time shirtless) rushes into one trap after another. On his first mission, he’s ambushed by a vicious street gang. Later, the newswoman stages her own kidnapping so she can capture exclusive rescue footage.

Mirageman’s primary objective is to bring down the Pedofilia Red, a heavily armed group responsible for abducting local children (a similar news story inspired the film). Judging by the resistance he encounters, Chile’s criminal underworld boasts an endless supply of henchmen, most of whom confront Miragemen in full ninja attire — a tactic that conveniently allows Espinoza to recycle stuntmen.

Shooting on HD, d.p. Nicolas Ibieta amped up the color levels in post to emphasize the pic’s cartoony tone, while sharp editing and Rocco’s funk-music score keep things punchy. Though buff enough to be the next Jean-Claude Van Damme, Zaror seems limited by his one clenched-jaw expression, which makes him hard to read with or without the hood.


Production: A Magnet release of a Mandrill Films/Ronnoc production. Produced by Derek Rundell. Executive producers, Jorge Abud, Gina Aguad, Sebastian Ayub, Ivan Lopez, Jose Miguel Posada, Diego Santander, Javier Schenone, Robinson Tajmuch, Mike Traa, Philipe Villarino. Directed, written, edited by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, based on an original idea by Espinoza, Marko Zaror.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Nicolas Ibieta; music, Rocco; art director, Constanza Meza Lopehandia; sound, Diego Fernandez; fight choreographer, Marko Zaror; special effects, Juan Pablo Aliaga. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Guilty Pleasures), June 22, 2008. Running time: 87 MIN.

With: With: Marko Zaror, Maria Elena Swett, Ariel Mateluna, Mauricio Pesutic, Ivan Jara.

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