Reviewed at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
Well, this is getting a little silly, I scrawled in my notebook, there in the dark, as the man clung to the statue and swung out over the amphitheater on a crane. Ha ha, joke was on me, that's the premise of the movie. Not the swing on the crane--the fall from it, which lays the poor guy on his back in the middle of a reconstruction area, with an iron rod stuck in his head. He's still alive, but if he moves, he could die. A media circus ensues. Isn't that always the way? The film is called As Luck Would Have It (La Chispa de la Vida in the original Spanish), and it's the work of The Last Circus director Alex de la Iglesia, who directs it like Ace in the Hole as remade by Almodovar: an odd mix of soap and satire that never quite gels.
The man is Roberto (Jose Mota), an out-of-work adman at the end of his rope. When an old colleague refuses him a job, Roberto decides to visit the hotel where he and his wife Luisa (Salma Hayek) took their honeymoon. But the hotel is gone, because of the ancient theater that's been unearthed there, and this is where you came in. When the story of the injured man becomes a sensation, everyone wants a piece: the local mayor (there for the big press opening), the doctor who finds he likes being on TV, and especially Roberto himself, whose background in media prompts him to immediately approach the situation from a business standpoint. He calls a publicist friend; before you can blink twice, a slick agent is pressing a six-pack into Luisa's hands. ."Just hold it so people can see it," he explains. "It's product placement!"
As Luck Would Have It is a work of smooth craftsmanship, from the desaturated, evocative photography to the excitable editing tempo, which builds suspense from often meager materials. But the picture is hampered by issues of familiarity--how many "media circus" movies have we seen, from Ace to Dog Day Afternoon to Mad City--and while the scrum is brought to life energetically, exactly how seriously are we supposed to take all of this?
It's an internal question this viewer kept asking, and never found a satisfactory answer to. Tonally, the picture is just too erratic; de la Iglesia can't negotiate turns this wide. The bathos are too mawkish, the humor is too broad, and the satire is too easy. Example: Near the film's end, Roberto gives an emotional television interview of great sincerity, speaking tenderly of his love for his family. The scene is played straight, and Mota is acting the hell out of it. But the director punctures it with an obvious joke involving a secondary character, and no sooner have we invested in the situation emotionally than the film's dastardly, cardboard villain returns, all but twirling his mustache.
Throw in a shrill, bombastic score that's sheer melodrama and an asinine TV movie ending, and that's about the long and short of it. As Luck Would Have It is well made, Hayek is a joy to watch (as ever), and Mota is an appealing protagonist. But it's too haphazard to amount to much of anything, either as comedy, drama, or something in between
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.