A would-be “Death of a Salesman” for our times, given that it studies a man prepared to swap his dignity for his family’s future, “As Luck Would Have It” reps an entertaining but unsubtle satire on the moral confusions of a marketing/media-driven world. Though it slickly offers up drama, black comedy and enjoyable perfs in due measure, the pic never develops much bite, though it does bare its fangs. Arguably helmer Alex de la Iglesia’s most accessible item to date (and certainly more digestible than his last, the deranged, misanthropic “The Last Circus”), “Luck” should come to offshore arthouses.
Written by Randy Feldman (“Tango and Cash”), the script tracks jobless advertising man Roberto (Spanish tube comedian Jose Mota), a one-hit wonder whose only successful slogan is now years behind him. Married to supportive, long-suffering Luisa (Salma Hayek), Roberto is deeply concerned about their financial future.
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After failing to find work in an ad company run by former friend Javier (Joaquin Climent), Roberto nostalgically drives to the hotel where he and Luisa honeymooned, only to find it’s become a museum. Stumbling onto a press junket to celebrate the opening of a restored Roman amphitheater, Roberto gets lost and falls; an iron rod is driven partly into his skull, immobilizing him.
The assembled press corps’ attentions switch instantly from the amphitheater to Roberto’s plight. Within minutes, a news helicopter is overhead. Spotting an opportunity to sell his story, Roberto (who still has use of his arms) manages to call old friend Kiko (Antonio de la Torre), who dispatches Johnnie (Fernando Tejero, deliciously weaselly) to be Roberto’s agent. Johnnie knows that there’s big money to be made — but only if Roberto dies.
Convincingly set up, Roberto’s plight neatly raises ethical questions that the pic explores via a range of amusing but lazy stereotypes, including a media mogul (Juanjo Puigcorbe) who strolls around in a bathrobe.
Mota’s fine central perf is big enough to contain the author’s message about the dangers and absurdities of out-of-control capitalism. A popular smallscreen comedy vet making his feature debut, Mota does well to retain audience sympathy in a partly unsympathetic role. The thesp fully exploits his wonderfully rubbery face and expressive, sad eyes for the two-thirds of the pic’s running time during which he can’t move. But Hayek as Luisa is the real standout — the only character with any real internal conflict, she highlights the lack of dimensionality elsewhere.
Auds looking for the kind of outrageous comedy for which de la Iglesia is known will be disappointed. Humor is limited to the odd visual gag and brief moments of acid dialogue, for example when Johnnie cracks that nobody remembers the Chilean miners because they survived.
Both dramatically and visually, things are satisfyingly busy, ratcheting up tension in what is pretty much real time and skillfully juggling a vast array of characters — though some, including Santiago Segura (“Torrente”), are apparently thrown in only as crowdpleasers. By the end, there’s a nagging sense that de la Iglesia is having it both ways, transforming Roberto’s sufferings into exactly the kind of spectacle he’s supposedly criticizing, particularly in the melodramatic final reel.
The Roman amphitheater in Cartagena, where the pic is mostly set, is a visually terrific backdrop, and elegantly appropriate, given that this is the story of a man at the mercy of media lions. The pic’s Spanish title, “The Spark of Life,” is the ad slogan Roberto dreamed up, and is much more appropriate than its English counterpart.