el Crimen Perfecto

Cast:
Guillermo Toledo as Rafael Gonzalez
Mónica Cervera as Lourdes
Luis Varela as Don Antonio Fraguas
Fernando Tejero as Alonso
Kira Miró as Roxanne
Enrique Villén as Inspector Campoy
Alicia Andújar as Desiree
Eduardo Gómez as Taxista
Javier Gutiérrez as Jaime
Montse Mostaza as Helena
Gracia Olayo as Concha
Isabel Osca as Doña Asunción
Rosario Pardo as Señora despistada
Manuel Tallafé as Tallafé
Penélope Velasco as Susana
Juan Viadas as Julian

Summary:
This rather erratic Spanish film is never sure if it wants to be a sex comedy or a crime thriller, but at least Guillermo Toledo stands out and somehow makes it all work.

Story:
Rafael Gonzalez (Toledo) is the perfect salesman, working in the women’s section of a large department store where he can sell anything to anyone. But he strives for more, to be floor manager, but his competition for the job gets him fired and then is accidentally killed in the resulting fist fight. Rafael is then blackmailed by a psychotic female coworker (Mónica Cervera), who threatens to reveal his secret if he doesn’t do her bidding. The only way out of his predicament is to kill her, too.

Analysis:
Álex de la Iglesia’s el Crimen Perfecto is a rather unusual beast, in that it starts out as one thing, ends as something else, and touches upon many different genres along the way.

When we first meet Rafael Gonzalez, he’s being praised as the world’s greatest salesman, and indeed, he’s one of the top two salesmen at a major department store. He has all of the gorgeous salesgirls eating out of the palm of his hand, as they hope to be honored with his legendary after-hours trysts. Gonzalez makes himself out to be the Spanish Alfie, complete with monologues to the camera, and he’s used to everything being perfect. The department store is a great setting for some humor that brings back memories of the hilarious British department store comedy “Are You Being Served.”

While Rafael may seem shallow, he does have loftier goals to become the store’s floor manager. When his main competition, the sleazy Don Antonio, gets Rafael fired for his backroom affairs, there’s a struggle and before Rafael knows it…there’s no more competition. Enter Lourdes, a homely coworker who has had a crush on Rafael, but has gone unnoticed among the store’s supermodel staff. She witnessed the accidental murder and offers to help Rafael get rid of the body in exchange for his undivided affection.

Up until the accident, el Crimen Perfecto plays like a Hollywood sex comedy, but this dark twist changes the nature of the film into something more like a Hitchcock thriller with tinges of comedy. This is also where the film arrives at its real plot, which revolves around Rafael’s co-dependent relationship with the semi-psychotic Lourdes. Insane and possessive, she forces Rafael to fire the store’s gorgeous saleswomen in favor of more plain-looking women. Women will probably see this a victory for plain janes everywhere over the image of the ideal women, but guys like me will probably miss the sexy, gorgeous and often naked Spanish beauties from the movie’s first twenty minutes. Essentially, the movie switches from being funny and sexy to not being so much of either. That’s not to say that it completely loses its sense of being a comedy, but it’s a darker form of humor that isn’t quite as enjoyable.

Fortunately, the movie has its saving grace in Guillermo Toledo, who does a great job handling all aspects of this complex character, becoming the glue that keeps things from falling apart as it bounces between comedy to drama and back. Although he’s a staple in Spanish cinema, Toledo isn’t so well known here except for the musical sex comedy The Other Side of the Bed, but he proves that he’s equally good at playing the lothario as playing the hen-pecked boyfriend without missing a beat. He also really sells the fact that Rafael is being driven out of his mind by Lourdes as becomes completely obsessed with silly things like spelling.

Things certainly pick up in the last act, as the movie returns to some funnier bits involving Rafael’s increasing madness, which lead to frequent conversations with the severed head of his victim Don Antonio. Luis Varela is actually funnier as Antonio when he’s a rotting corpse, plaguing Rafael much like the Griffin Dunne role in An American Werewolf in London. The whole thing ends with an amazing climax where the department store goes up in a blaze, a spectacle which would have been even more amazing if the effects weren’t so low-fidelity.

Still, De La Iglesias proves himself to be an interesting filmmaker, combining elements of modern Spanish cinema with more mainstream Hollywood ideas. In that sense, he tends to be more accessible than his country’s more famous filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, although there isn’t nearly as much of Almodovar’s innovation either. Still, it’s a good-looking film with nice camerawork and the type of lighting that makes every scene bright and colorful.

The Bottom Line:
In general, el Crimen Perfecto is rather erratic, starting out like Alfie switching to a Hitchcock thriller, and then settling into a quirky, dark comedy. It’ll be hard for some people to appreciate all the different tones of the movie, but there are enough enjoyable moments to make it worthwhile.

el Crimen Perfecto opened in New York on Friday and opens elsewhere in the next few weeks.

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