‘Mortadelo and Filemon: Mission Implausible’ (‘Mortadelo and Filemon contra Jimmy el Cachondo’): Film Review

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Spain
Old-fashioned knockabout family fun, updated

Spain’s favorite hapless investigators return for this big-budget animated version

The accident-prone agents who have brought laughter to Spanish kids and their parents since the late 50s make a very creditable leap into CGI with the energetically entertaining Mortadelo and Filemon: Mission Implausible. Previous film versions of the exploits of Francisco Ibanez’s titular heroes have been patchy, including director Javier Fesser’s own 2003 live action stab, but this time it works, successfully welding the spirit of the original to spectacular hi-tech visuals which are keeping both purists and newcomers happy following a strong pre-vacation entry at the Spanish box-office.

Sales seem guaranteed to multiple Spanish-language territories, and despite the film’s extreme Spanishness, strong marketing could just about see this family-friendly duo wreaking havoc elsewhere.

Early scenes portray an entertainingly hi-tech, glossy variation on classic M & F slapstick motifs before it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream by Filemon (Janfri Topera). We’re returned to the ramshackle, comically violent, malfunctioning gadget-filled world they normally inhabit, something like a mash-up between Looney Tunes and Wallace and Gromit. Brainless, but an expert in disguise, Mortadelo (Karra Elejalde) and his temperamental boss work for a criminal investigation agency, under threat from a dastardly Marty Feldman lookalike called “Jimmy el Cachondo” (Gabriel Chame), loosely translatable as “Jimmy the Joker”.

When Jimmy steals a safe from the TIA (not CIA) building, the Superintendent (Mariano Venancio) instructs our heroes to recover it. Further bad news arrives in the form of the monstrous Tronchamulas (Victor Monigote), a violent, three-ton criminal who wishes to take revenge on Filemon by doing a terrible, nameless “something” to him. Professor Bacterio (all characters are visually faithful recreations of the originals) has invented a serum called Reversicine, intended to transform Mortadelo and Filemon into intelligent beings, but Tronchamulas is accidentally injected with it, whereon he becomes gentle and baby-like, also revealing that he is Jimmy’s cousin.

The pages of a Mortadelo and Filemon comic book are packed with detail, verbal wit, and visual invention, and on screen this translates into a hyperactivity and breathlessness which is at times almost exhausting: it’s the kind of viewing experience designed to deliver new visual pleasures on a second viewing as the viewer refocuses on the background. Many of these pleasures are satirical Spanish references -- to Spanish reality TV, for example, or even to the failed 1981 coup d’etat -- which will fly over the heads of non-Spanish viewers, as will the constant punning, which will make subtitlers sweat.

More seaside postcard than South Park, the humor is appealingly old-fashioned. It's knockabout schoolboy-ish fare which rarely depends on knowing irony for its effects, and which is a little bit sexist, though reinvigorated by the smart use of technology. Fesser has indeed captured the spirit and flavor of the original and his genuine affection for these characters and their world bounces off the screen. But the original cartoons are pretty much lacking in the pathos or tenderness which have played so crucial a part in the adult appeal of the really successful animated films of recent years, and the film is too.

What you do get is perfectly-executed cartoon slapstick by the mile, with bodies stretched, smashed and squeezed into all kinds of unlikely shapes, and sequences of technically breathtaking visual wit, particularly through the aerial fight and chase sequences as M & F pursue Jimmy in his rickety helicopter over vast, receding 3D cityscapes. But not once, despite a rather elegant slow-motion sequence involving Cupid and his arrow and the occasional sharply human observation, do things slow down to allow these cartoon characters to stop being characters and to start resembling people.

The slick 3D generally feels intrinsic to the effect rather than added-on, whether focusing on the pores of Filemon’s gigantic nose or through the aerial sequences. Music is audible pretty much throughout, underpinning the sense of visual and verbal excess which is the film’s trademark. Voice work is excellent, setting the standard high for the English language version which this highly entertaining duo deserves.

Production company: Zeta Cinema, Películas Pendelton
Cast: Janfri Topera, Karra Elejalde, Gabriel Chame, Mariano Venancio, Victor Monigote, Emilio Gavira
Director, editor: Javier Fesser
Screenwriters: Javier Fesser, Claro Garcia, Cristobal Ruiz
Producers: Antonio Asensio, Luis Manso, Francisco Ramos
Director of photography: Miguel Pablos
Production designer: Víctor Monigote
Composer: Rafael Arnau
Sales: Warner Bros Spain

No rating, 88 minutes

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