Pedro Almodóvar, the most famous Spanish filmmaker since Luis Buñuel, has been churning out hilarious and sometimes touching Black Comedies for years. It was only a matter of time before his overwhelming presence in the Spanish film community finally rubbed off and it seems that a veritable Black Comedy movement is underway in Spain. One of the most predominant members of this movement is Álex de la Iglesia, whose The Day of the Beast (1995) and 800 Bullets (2002) have garnered him much international acclaim, but little notice here in America. This is an unfortunate situation as Iglesia seems to be a very talented filmmaker who needs to be seen by a larger audience.
Dying of Laughter (1999) is Iglesia's Black-as-Coal Comedy Tribute to the dying art form of the comedy duo. While there have been many famous Duos over the years, Abbot & Costello, Hope & Crosby, Martin & Lewis, it seems to be a relic of the past. Now there are the "Buddy" movies, which usually star two very mismatched actors in comedic situations, but the pairings never usually last more than one or two films. The idea being that while certain actors may enjoy working together, they all have large enough egos that they feel that they are big enough to support a film without being tied to another star and continued pairings would begin to sour the working relationship.
This is the premise that Dying of Laughter uses, as it would seem that the reason there are no longer any comedy duos is that they all grow to hate one another. However, if you think about it that's not altogether a bad thing since the initial chemistry between the two has now morphed into a kind of palpable electricity that spreads out from the Duo into the audience who are always wondering, "What are they going to do next?" The levels to which the main characters, Nino (Santiago Segura) & Bruno (El Gran Wyoming), sink during the course of the film can really only be appreciated in the same context as a Tom & Jerry, Ren & Stimpy and even Itchy and Scratchy, which all play out as the natural evolution of the Comedy Duo.
Beginning with the end, we watch as the present day Nino & Bruno arrive at the Television Studio without speaking. They are doing a reunion show to coincide with New Years' Eve and the ringing in of the new Millennium (which I know didn't "officially" happen until 2001, but come on, we were all there…) . After a quick stop in hair and make-up, Spain's most famous comedy duo head out onto the stage… where they proceed to hurl epithets and bullets at one another. Their act kills, literally and their former manager, cradling their mangled bodies, recounts their tale. Trust me when I say I'm not giving anything away here, I mean, this all takes place in the first tem minutes of the movie. It's at this point where you need to decide if this is the right movie for you. I admit that even I was put off by this seemingly senseless display of graphic violence, but if you can stomach that, then you're in for a real treat as the reason for the bloodbath is explained to us along with the last 25 years of Spain's popular culture.
Dying of Laughter is certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I mean hate, envy, madness and death are all pretty heavy topics, but the irreverent way in which Iglesias handles them make's Dying of Laughter a remarkably enjoyable experience for an educated film lover. The actual chemistry between the two leads is spot-on, from their initial meeting all the way through to their demise. Another point to mention is the wonderful attention to detail, since much of the film is a period piece, the recreation of a Spain under Franco's rule up until and following his death was great. Álex de la Iglesia is a tremendously talented filmmaker and I hope that more of his movies will be available in this country soon.
Picture: The movie is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer was very good with a crisp, clear picture and bright, bold colors throughout..
Audio: There is a Castilian Dolby Digital 5.1 Track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. I listened to the 5.1 Track with English subtitles and was very pleased with the audio.
Extras: Included as Extras on this DVD are Optional English/Spanish Menus, a "Making of…" Featurette, a Music Video featuring Nino & Bruno from the film and trailers for other Lolafilms Latino Cinema releases.
Conclusion: It takes guts to make a Black Comedy in Hollywood these days, but Spain isn't Hollywood and Iglesia isn't your average filmmaker. This guy has definitely got some directing chops, and that's not just me saying that. He is one of Spain's rising stars and if the guy could just catch a break and have some of his work released over here in a timely fashion (Dying of Laughter came out 5 years ago) then maybe people would catch on. This movie comes very Highly Recommended.