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800 Bullets
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by Jay Seaver

"Personally, I only counted 753."
3 stars

The Western remained popular in Europe longer than it did in America, and stayed more potent as well. I'm not sure they lasted long enough that they were still being cranked out in the early 1990s, which this film's timeline would seem to imply, but maybe. And if not, that's not really a point worth any demerits, even if this is a film about the collision between fantasy and reality.

Carlos Torralba (Luis Castro) is a handful, the sort of pre-teen that makes his mother Laura (Carmen Maura) wish for a guiding hand in his life. She's less than pleased, though, when he seeks one out in the form of his never-before-mentioned grandfather Julian (Sancho Gracia), a former western stuntman who now plays the sheriff in "Hollywood, Texas", a tourist attraction built out of an old Western movie set, where paying customers can see an old west shootout enacted for them live. Carlos skips out on a school trip to find him. Julian tries to send him home, then grows fond of him. Laura tracks him down, then sees the beautiful land on which the financially failing attraction resides as the perfect place for her firm to build a resort. An outraged Julian rallies his confederates to fight back - with live ammunition!

It's kind of ridiculous, and at a few minutes over two hours, a little too sprawling. The relationships between Julian, his wife, Carlos, Laura, and her late husband, are merely strained, not terribly complicated. The other players at Hollywood, Texas are colorful, but thin. And in some ways, the stunt show almost looks too good - for something that's supposed to be a failing concern, it looks awfully slick and well-staged. In some ways, this helps to make the fantasy of living in a Wild West town in Almeria more seductive, for both Carlos and Julian, but seems incongruous when the reality of the situation must be confronted. It also seems to speak ill of the area's police force that a few crazy guys with six-shooters and no actual hostages are able to hold a SWAT team at bay for so long.

For all the thinness and implausibility of the story, though, the cast grows on you. Sancho Garcia's Julian may be a self-deluding old fool, but he's one with passion and flair. He's a man living a dream, so wrapped up in a fantasy that he can't quite handle it when reality intrudes, but there are moments where he is able to clearly remind us that his happy life is also an exile. Camen Maura, so excellent in the director's La Comunidad, plays the fun-ruining mother. She's the type who comes off as a villain when your age has just reached double digits, but is in fact mostly overwhelmed by the challenges of both a small child and a successful career. Luis Castro is quite charming as a somewhat obnoxious city kid who is swept away and awe-struck by the imaginary world of Hollywood, Texas. Angel de Andres Lopez, whose role as either a local prostitute or a woman playing a prostitute in the show (or quite possibly both) isn't particularly important to the story, still grabs the audience's attention ; she's got some charisma (and by "charisma", I don't just mean "a great body highlighted by exceptional breasts and no apparent resistance to doing nudity", although, yeah, that's a big part of it).

For all the film's well-staged set pieces and pleasant characters, though, it never achieves the same levels of delight as director Alex de la Iglesia's other features. This may be deliberate; he and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria are in a very character-based mode, asking the audience to identify with the people on screen rather than just enjoying the anarchy, as is their usual m.o. It's not quite conventional, but it's more sentimental than their usual work.

Nothing inherently wrong with "sentimental", but de la Iglesia isn't nearly as good at it as he is at "crazy". "800 Bullets" is at its best when it's crazy, but that doesn't happen often enough.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13787&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/14/06 11:16:43
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USA
  29-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2005

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