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Jose Luis Torrente, Santiago Segura’s wind-breaking, money-making cop, is one of Spanish cinema’s enduring success stories. The only question is whether numbers-wise Torrente can, so to speak, keep it up, it seems he can: Torrente 5: Operation Eurovegas made $4.5m in its first three days, the biggest Spanish opening of 2014. Quality-wise — and some would say that quality has never been a part of the Torrente equation — the saga hit a low point with the appalling, lazy Torrente 4, and this latest iteration has the feel of a conscious attempt to import some real quality whilst keeping the diehards happy.
The off-the-peg plot plays like a low-grade replay of Ocean’s 11. It’s 2018, and a less pot-bellied Torrente, is released from jail following whatever forgettable thing he did at the end of Torrente 4. After a few minutes designed to refamiliarize the viewer with the character, he decides, along with his sidekick Cuco (Julian Lopez) and Cuco’’s cousin (played by Jesulin de Ubrique, a former bullfighter and celebrity — Segura has a habit of trawling bad TV shows for his casts) to become a criminal and rob Eurovegas, a Madrid casino complex which in real life was mooted but failed to come off. (Essentially, the plan was a get-rich quick scheme for the Madrid town council, just as this is a get-rich quick scheme for Torrente).
The team is the usual assortment of useless weirdos, the most entertaining of whom are played by the fine actors Florentino Fernandez as Genaro and Carlos Areces as his half-wit brother Ricardito. But the big coup is Alec Baldwin as the corrupt casino security guard, who to his credit seems to be having a whale of a time as he delivers bad Spanish from his villain’s wheelchair.
The trick here has been to keep the Torrente faithful happy with the jokes and explosions whilst importing a little more substance. In this Segura has succeeded, because his instincts for what the public wants are unfailingly watertight, and also because he really understands Spaniards. The satire of Torrente 5 simply reflects bar conversations throughout Spain, and will therefore be felt as an act of solidarity by its millions of viewers by the already popular comedian.
Torrente 5 is actually less gross than its predecessors: though there is more spitting. The first film apart, a low-budget item which has some claim of being social realism, the previous films have often been scatological schoolboy jokes extended to feature length.
But things have changed in a Spain which is in the grip of the consequences of financial crisis. Reality has outstripped fiction, and at least over its first half, Segura mines the misery to deliver some pretty scathing social satire which, in the hands of a different director — the great Luis Berlanga, say, Segura’s cinematic hero — would have been hailed as dangerously subversive. Especially at a time when sadly no other Spanish filmmaker is standing up and doing it.
In Segura’s Spain in 2018, for example, current, famously non-dynamic president, Mariano Rajoy, is still in power, Spain has been ejected from the euro and has returned to the peseta, and, darkly, Spain is fifth in the world ranking of child exploitation. It’s comedy, but it’s bitter, angry comedy.
Like Pedro Almodovar before him, Segura has a genuine, hilarious affection for both the Spanish housewife, and for the Almodovar vet, the magical Chus Lampreave, who embodies her here. Tony Leblanc, who died in 2012 and who played Torrente’s uncle and then father in previous films, here receives a lovely homage as Segura inserts Torrente into a Leblanc film and stages a dialogue between them. Spanish comedy actors Fernando Esteso and Andres Pajares, who were as much of their time as Segura is of his, are likewise rescued for cameos here.
So Torrente is indeed sexist and racist, but as counterbalance there is affection, a true love of cinema, and real wit, qualities which Spanish viewers and reviewers of the series too often fail to spot. For example, the fact that Baldwin’s character is called ‘Marshall’ is a homage to Berlanga’s masterpiece, Welcome Mr Marshall, another film in which Spain meets the US and ends up losing out.
The details of Torrente 5 suggest that should he wish to do so, Santiago Segura is better-positioned than most to make a really good, enduring movie about twenty-first century Spain. But for that to happen, he’ll have to liberate himself from Torrente — and if the box office is any guide, that isn’t going to be easy.
Production companies: Amiguetes Entertainment, Telefonica Studios, Atresmedia Cine
Cast: Santiago Segura, Alec Baldwin, Carlos Areces, Neus Asensi, Chus Lampreave, Anna Simon, Fernando Esteso, Julian Lopez, Florentino Fernandez, Jesulin de Ubrique
Director, screenwriter: Santiago Segura
Producer: Santiago Segura
Executive producers: Gabriel Arias-Salgado, Axel Kuschevatzky
Director of photography: Teo Delgado
Production designer: Jose Luis Arrizabalaga (Biaffra)
Costume designer: Cristina Rodriguez
Editor: Fran Amaro
Composer: Roque Banos
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