After turning heads with the resourcefulness and high energy of their 2012 “7 Boxes,” Paraguayan duo Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori expand their antic caper-film template in “The Gold Seekers,” to results that are not only bigger and more polished, but even more of a good-natured delight. “Gold Seekers” should easily exceed its predecessor’s international outreach, while dangling remake prospects and boosting visibility for the nation’s modest film industry. It’s just Paraguay’s second feature to be submitted for Oscar Foreign Language film, though it failed to make the shortlist — perhaps because it’s too accessible a slice of pure entertainment for that traditionally sober category.
An opening scroll briefly explains that the War of the Triple Alliance, which killed off as much of 80% of the nation’s population at the time, ended in 1870 with many victims no longer alive to claim the valuables they’d hidden to keep from looters. Thus commenced the phenomenon of “plata yvyguy,” an obsession with buried treasure that’s informed numerous local legends and superstitions over time.
Nearly 150 years later, we see two men digging deep under a rural barn in search of such plunder — though when they actually do find a chest of presumed riches, one is greedy enough to shoot the other dead. Yet in line with the belief that “only the pure of intent” can hold onto plata yvyguy, this perp turns from his malicious deed to find the trunk has already mysteriously, perhaps magically disappeared.
Meanwhile in Asuncion, wealth is an impossible dream for Manu (Tomas Arredondo), who like “7 Boxes’” slightly younger hero is a delivery boy of sorts; he services a newspaper route on bicycle to help support his hardworking mother, a baby brother, and two grandparents. Grandpa has been immobile and mute since a stroke, but he still communicates the desire to give his grandson a book — one that turns out to have a map hidden in its slipcover. Manu quickly jumps to the conclusion that it’s a guide to treasure (gramps was not immune to the lure of plata yvyguy), soon enlisting bestie Fito (Christian Ferreira) and Don Elio (Mario Tonanez) as co-conspirators. It doesn’t take them long to determine the long-lost plunder must be located somewhere beneath a splendid 19th-century building that’s now the embassy of an African nation.
Security there is tight, so Manu applies himself to winning the initially hostile attentions of Ilu (Cecilia Torres), a member of the housekeeping staff who accepts deliveries. She’s no pushover — and no prize either, given her surly, lightly mustached visage — but once she divines his real intent, she wants in on the deal, too. However, by then other employees in the gossipy, rivalrous embassy have also guessed what Manu and company are up to. When a swanky party at the facility provides cover for our protagonists to infiltrate its grounds and dig, at least two other variably armed-and-dangerous parties are poised to grab whatever treasure surfaces.
Parceling out “7 Boxes’” chase-heavy action into more isolated and varied set pieces — culminating in an excavation intercut with a dance performance by three transsexuals — “The Gold Seekers” places equal or greater emphasis on character humor and intrigue. Both of those elements are very nicely laid out in Maneglia and Mario Gonzalez Marti’s neatly constructed screenplay, with the actors a perfect fit for a colorful array of not particularly deep yet satisfyingly sketched roles. There’s an air of sunny escapism here that’s amplified by the directors’ upscale presentation.
There’s nothing groundbreaking or profound here. But “The Gold Seekers” is the kind of confident, clever, likable entertainment that sends you out with a guilt-free smile on your face — and there’s nothing trivial about that.