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A Spanish action-comedy that gets the balance just right, Javier Ruiz Caldera’s Spy Time adapts a well-known comic book without getting bogged down in the series’ details. Winner of the best director award at the Seattle International Film Festival and a handful of Goya and Gaudi awards back home, it would play well to English speakers who enjoyed Michel Hazanavicius‘ French OSS 117 films, though this effort is less archly focused on the stylistic tropes of James Bondian mythology.
The hero of Manuel Vázquez Gallego’s 1960s comic refers to himself as “Anacleto, Secret Agent” as frequently as 007 says “Bond, James Bond.” Here, though, Anacleto (played with silver-haired panache by Imanol Arias) is not quite the star. The plot centers on his son, Adolfo (Quim Gutiérrez), an underachiever whose lack of adventurousness causes longtime girlfriend Katia (Alexandra Jimenez) to dump him.
Before he has processed the breakup, Adolfo is targeted by villains: He doesn’t even know Dad is a superspy, but Anacleto’s longtime nemesis Vasquez (Carlos Areces) has decided to kidnap the youth to torment the old man. Curiously, in the first couple of kidnapping attempts, Adolfo surprises himself with combat skills that even a lifetime of first-person-shooter gaming can’t explain. (A gem of a slapstick combat scene finds him fending off an attacker with hairspray, a toilet brush and one of Katia’s sex toys.)
Anacleto, who has always posed as a humble sausagemaker, takes Adolfo out to their farmhouse, where the truth eventually comes out and more broad, enjoyable combat ensues. (We also get funny flashbacks showing how father taught son self-defense without the latter knowing.) Eventually Adolfo and his buddy Martin (Berto Romero), who happens to be Katia’s brother, must team with Anacleto to stop the not-quite-masterful evil mastermind.
Though acting is sharp across the board and Caldera’s direction is lively, Arias tends to steal the show in a performance where tuxedo-clad dignity gets shaded with just enough self-mockery to make the film’s point. Constantly coming up against government cutbacks that hobble his secret-agent division, Anacleto must do more with less — before inevitably passing the mantle, and the bowtie, down to his newly ready-for-action son.
Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Production company: Zeta Cinema
Cast: Imanol Arias, Quim Gutierrez, Alexandra Jimenez, Berto Romero, Carlos Areces
Director: Javier Ruiz Caldera
Screenwriters: Pablo Alen, Breixo Corral, Fernando Navarro
Producer: Francisco Ramos
Executive producer: Jaime Ortiz de Artinano
Director of photography: Arnau Valls Colomer
Production designer: Balter Gallart
Costume designer: Cristina Rodriguez
Editor: Alberto de Toro
Composer: Javier Rodero
Casting director: Juana Martinez
Sales: Film Factory
Not rated, 92 minutes
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