Dir: Javier Fesser. Spain. 2003. 105mins.
Mortadelo & Filemon: The Big Adventure (La Gran Aventura De Mortadelo Y Filemon) broke local records on its opening weekend in Spain and, fuelled by a hefty promotion effort, shot into the number three ranking of all-time top grossers after just three weekends, behind Alejandro Amenabar's The Others and Santiago Segura's Torrente 2: Mission In Marbella. Still playing on 326 screens, it has taken $21.2m (Euros 19.9m) after five weeks.
Based on the popular 1960s comic by Francisco Ibanez and incorporating myriad special effects, Mortadelo & Filemon (M&F) confirms that local genre films can attract young audiences as well as any Hollywood production - even without major name stars. Its success practically demands a sequel and could inspire future live-action versions of other popular local comics in Spain, much as the success of Asterix & Obelix has done in France with new productions like Mike Blueberry and Michel Vaillant.
What audiences get out of M&F will depend entirely on what they bring into it. Spectators nostalgic for the original comic will be drawn to the real-life recreation of the screwball characters. But outside the handful of world territories familiar with the comic, M&F will be a tough sell to audiences even if buyers are drawn by its local success. Much of the humour is also local, including some written background visuals, posing further translation challenges and potential sales obstacles. M&F's core and lasting audience will be teenagers, considering that the cartoonish violence, occasionally gruesome when applied to live characters, may also make it inappropriate for small children.
Mortadelo & Filemon (Pocino and Viyuela) are a duo of inept spies working for the T.I.A. agency ("tia" also means girl or chick). When a potent new "demoraliser" machine disappears from headquarters, Mortadelo & Filemon are assigned the case - as is their nemesis, super-spy Fredy Mazas (Jean-Pierre Jeunet regular Pinon), possessor of nifty gadgets, the boss's (Venancio) blessing and a surplus dose of vanity. The thief aims to sell his stolen goods to the Franco-esque ruler (Sagarzazu) of a small country called Tirania, a six-toed tyrant obsessed with doing in the Queen of England and finding his own successor.
The film's special effects and complicated production design are seamless, and the actors embody their buffoonish caricatures to a tee. The use of music is also clever and editing keeps the pace brisk. But the script by Javier and Guillermo Fesser, creators of 1998's P Tinto's Miracle (El Milagro De P Tinto), relies too heavily on the comic's visual wackiness and the characters' individual tics, emphasising sight gags and one-off effects over a tighter plot structure or more ingenious dialogues. It is a comic strip formula that drags in a 105-minute feature film. Adult audiences, however nostalgic for the comic, may get impatient with the predictable one-liners, repetitive violence, potty jokes and some retro political incorrectness.
Prod cos: Sogecine, Pendleton
Sp dist: Warner Sogefilms
Int'l sales: Sogepaq
Exec prods: Luis Manso, Fernando Bovaira, Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Scr: Javier Fesser, Guillermo Fesser, based on characters by Francisco Ibanez
Cinematography: Xavi Gimenez
Prod des: Cesar Macarron
Music: Rafael Arnau, Mario Gosalvez
Ed: Ivan Aledo
Main cast: Benito Pocino, Pepe Viyuela, Dominique Pinon, Paco Sagarzazu, Mariano Venancio, Janfri Topera, Maria Isbert, Berta Ojea