I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to expect from Spanish director, Álex de la Iglesia's latest release, 800 Bullets. After being won over by the coal-black comedy of his earlier effort Dying of Laughter, I was pretty much expecting something along the same lines. That's not to say that there aren't moments of that same acidic humor, but there's also touches of eccentric fantasy and even genuine warmth. While still not a filmmaker for everyone, de la Iglesia is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors.
One of the most striking things about de la Iglesia's films is that his love of movies and film history is evident in almost every frame. He also has a love of dark and sexual humor that could almost border on the juvenile if the framework of his pictures wasn't so sophisticated. Maybe it's just that the morals over in Europe are a little looser, or perhaps we've gotten ourselves a little too high-strung here in the States, but some of the sexual sight gags and scenarios in his films could be a real shock to the system. Having grown up in the late 70's and early 80's, I am more than comfortable with this type of comedy.
The premise of 800 Bullets is simple. A spoiled young boy, Carlos (Luis Castro), is being raised by his corporate executive mother. During a move he discovers a box with some pictures of his father and grandfather in them, except these aren't just any old pictures, but actual movie stills. His mother Laura (Carmen Maura), a corporate executive, has never told him about his father, except that he died when Carlos was very young, so he asks his grandmother about the pictures and discovers that his grandfather, whom he has never met, was a stuntman (and even Clint Eastwood's double) on many American films that were shot in the Almeria region of Spain. His father was also a stuntman and died performing a stunt in a film supervised by his grandfather.
Obsessed with finding out more about his father's death and meeting his grandfather, a real life movie star, Carlos ditches a skiing trip, instead making his way to Almeria. What he finds when he gets there is a dilapidated town, Hollywood, Texas, built from the sets of countless "Spaghetti Westerns" over the years. The residents, all former or aspiring stuntmen, put on a Wild West show daily for a meager stream of bored and bloated foreign tourists. His grandfather, Julián (Sancho Gracia), wants nothing to do with him however, until he and some of the crew get busted by the local police and need the boys "emergency" credit card to bail them out. Afterwards, it's an all out party, as Carlos and Julián bond over beer, cards and women, literally (while there isn't anything too salacious happening, the very image of the young Carlos in bed with the very beautiful and very naked Sandra (Yoima Valdés) could be more than some people may be able to handle).
Eventually Laura discovers Carlos' whereabouts and heads to Almeria to bring him home. To get even with her father-in-law for "corrupting" her only son, she convinces her company to buy the Almeria property for the site of a new amusement park. Determined not go down without a fight, Julián convinces the other denizens of Hollywood, Texas to stand up and fight back. Purchasing 800 bullets to replace the blanks they regularly use in their firearms, the rag-tag band of would-be actors wages a last stand. Not wanting to be left out of the action, Carlos heads back to join his grandfather when he sees the action unfolding on TV. Things reach a head when Laura realizes that Carlos has gone back to Julián, and as the violence continues to escalate, she tries to make amends.
As I said before, de la Iglesia's films are not for everyone, and even though 800 Bullets is decidedly lighter in tone than Dying of Laughter, it's curious blend of sex and violence may turn off some people to the otherwise weird and wonderful "family" storyline within. This is a film by and for film lovers, especially those whose tastes tend to wander to the left of the dial. De la Iglesia is one of the most interesting directors working in Spain today (that statement does not include Almodóvar, who in my opinion has since transcended the label "Spanish filmmaker" with his last few releases) and one to watch for the future.
Picture: The movie is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer was great with a crisp, clear picture and his trademark bright, bold color palette throughout.
Audio: There is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Track (with optional English Subtitles) which sounded good to me, even though I don't speak Spanish. The full audio mix was great, with rich sound effects and terrific music throughout.
Extras: Included as Extras on this DVD are a "Making of…" Featurette (which thankfully included behind the scenes footage of Carlos' more compromising scenes), two Photo Galleries, the Theatrical trailer, as well as, trailers for other TLA Releasing DVDs.
Conclusion: While not as audacious as his previous Dying of Laughter, there's still a lot to like in this film. Álex de la Iglesia is certainly a director with a unique and somewhat twisted vision, but I would take one of his movies over half-a-dozen of the safe, paint-by-numbers fare coming out of Hollywood these days. De la Iglesia's newest film, Ferpect Crime, is currently making the festival rounds, so I suggest you track it down and pick up the 800 Bullets DVD while you're at it. It definitely comes Recommended.