Mortadelo & Filemon: the Big Adventure.
A Warner Sogefilms release of a Sogecine/Peliculas Pendleton production, in association with Tele 5, Canal Plus. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid.) Executive producers, Luis Manso, Fernando Bovaira, Enrique Lopez Lavigne.
Directed by Javier Fesser. Screenplay, Javier Fesser, Guillermo Fesser, based on the comic books by Francisco Ibanez. Camera (color), Xavi Gimenez; editors, Ivan Aledo, El Igloo; music, Rafael Arnau, Mario Gosalvez; art director, Cesar Macarron; sound (Dolby/DTS), Jose M. Bloch. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, Feb. 11, 2003. Running time: 105 MIN.
Mortadelo Benito Pocino Filemon Pepe Viyuela Fredy Mazas Dominique Pinon Tirano Paco Sagarzazu Filemon's mother Maria Isbert The Super Mariano Venenciano Prof. Bacterio Janifri Topera Ofelia Berta Ojea Nadiusko Janusz Ziemniak Rompetechos Emilio Gaviria
High on energy and special effects but low on dramatic invention, sophomore helmer Javier Fesser's "Mortadelo & Filemon: The Big Adventure" is a visually mesmerizing live-action take on two '60s classic comic-book characters who are stupid secret agents. Released Feb. 7 on 313 screens, pic grossed $5.5 million in its first three days to become the biggest-ever bow in Spain for a local movie. But "Mortadelo" is as Spanish as chorizo, and such ultimately juvenile fare could only click offshore if oriented toward kids.
Fesser's toon imagination, as shown in his accomplished debut "P. Tinto's Miracle," makes him something of a Hispanic Terry Gilliam, though with less bite. As straight entertainment, pic has enough slapstick strikes per minute to sustain interest but--despite the presence of Jeunet & Cato regular Dominique Pinon in the cast--lacks a dark side which would take it to another level. Pie's local success is due to the cross-generational appeal of the quasi-mythical characters, plus a ferocious marketing campaign.
Standard slapstick plot has mad scientist Prof. Bacterio (Janifri Topera) inventing DDT, a gas which saps enemy armies of their energy. Nadiusko (Janusz Ziemniak) steals the DDT and sells it to aged evil dictator Tirano (Paco Sagarzazu), whose plans include invading England and turning Buckingham Palace into apartments.
Much to the chagrin of incompetent agents Filemon (Pepe Viyuela) and his sidekick, master of disguise Mortadelo (Benito Pocino), their boss (Mariano Venenciano) hires super-agent Fredy Mazas (Pinon) to recover the gas. Moreover, Mortadelo and Filemon are kicked out of the service and thrown in jail.
Mazas discovers Tirano is soon to retire and hand over his evil empire to his faithful assistant, whose position Mazas promptly usurps in hope of inheriting Tirano's immense fortune. As a result, Mortadelo is promptly dispatched to pretend to be Tirano's long-lost son and foil Mazas' dastardly plans.
Special effects are tiptop, especially during the first and last 15 minutes. However, Fesser could have employed them less indulgently and more imaginatively--too many characters are flattened, cartoon-like, by big weights or unexpectedly knocked senseless, which quickly palls. Pic plays its f/x ace card with the strikingly surreal opening sequence, featuring a digital mosquito crooning in French, and nothing thereafter matches it in wit.
The visual gags come thick and fast, often away from the main action. Sometimes, they're just deja vu, like a car crashing into others in front and back while trying to exit a parking space; other times, they're stunning, such as characters literally deflating, or a missile ending up lodged in the butt of M&F's boss.
Thanks to a decent-sized budget, pic creates a comprehensive and consistent madcap world, located somewhere between the real and the fantastic, replete with both toon geography and wobbly, Heath Robinson-like gadgetry. The well-chosen cast--none of whom are big stars locally--is an authentic grotesques' gallery, particularly the lanky, bespectacled Pocino as Mortadelo and Emilio Gaviria as an angry, short-sighted midget who at one point puts a cat through a fax machine and then applies an iron to it. Vet Maria Isbert, 86 next birthday, does a nicely eccentric turn as Filemon's mother.
The all-important love-hate relationship between the two central characters comes over loud and clear. Refs abound to both Spanish culture and movies in general, with the joke dictator a none-too-subtle ref to Franco, a threatening Shrek lookalike that makes the heroes' lives a misery. Rafael Arnau and Mario Gosalvez's effective score is likewise a rag-bag of cinematic refs. Numerous examples of word play are unlikely to travel through either subtitling or dubbing.