Combustion: Mumbai Review

Rebels without any claws.

This slightly low-rent Spanish derivation of "Fast and Furious 6" underplayed at home but has generated brisk international presales.

Nostalgists will remember Daniel Calparsoro as the director of abrasive, tough little social commentary movies with loads of soul, but that’s all over now. An efficient, strikingly superficial thriller that does what it does and isn’t interested in doing anything more, Combustion is pure, unashamed product. Welding together automobiles, muscles, mini-skirts and music into a slick flick about people being nasty to each other, the film delivers its ingredients as a slightly low-rent Spanish derivation of Fast and Furious 6, which underplayed at home but has generated brisk sales offshore. Job done.

Brutish, sneering Navas (Alberto Ammann, best-known outside Spain for playing the innocent jailbird in Cell 211) drives a black car, which he races illegally. To raise more cash he also breaks into the houses of the wealthy by using Navas' girlfriend Ari (Adriana Ugarte) as bait for the male owners.

The plan for their big final hit is to rob the store of jewelry heiress Julia (Maria Castro), engaged to former racing driver Mikel (Alex Gonzalez, driving a white Porsche a la James Dean), forced into retirement and trying to settle down into a more conservative lifestyle. But things go awry when Ari starts to fall for Mikel. When he takes her out in his private plane, she starts to realize that she could have lots of money without having to rob any more, though this is not said: the question of whether it’s Mikel or his cash that she’s falling for is left interestingly ambiguous.

Sometimes the characters desire sex, sometimes money and sometimes car thrills, but their desires never escape this triangle, which leaves them all looking like cardboard, albeit quite nice-looking cardboard. Mikel’s troubled past makes him vulnerable and therefore attractive to Ari, but there is always the nagging doubt that it’s his plane rather than Mikel himself that’s really doing it for her.

Ari dominates the first half of the story but is quickly dropped when Mikel and Navas begin to bond over their vehicles, sitting side by side appreciating the Porsche’s purring engine and doing a testosterone-raising chickie run. Unable to compete with the cars for the boys’ attention, Ari meekly retires to the status of ornament. Meanwhile, the despicable way that the boys treat the hapless heiress Julia (oddly, the film both fetishizes and criticizes wealth) removes any lingering sympathy that the audience may have felt for her, so the film’s finale represents a victory not so much for good over evil as a victory of the bad over the very bad.

Dialogue is entirely predictable and borrowed. Daniel Aranyo’s busy photography dutifully goes to the ground whenever cars or Ari’s long legs are in his viewfinder, then swoops high over the races and chases, while endless cityscapes aim at redrawing Madrid as a place where such things might actually happen. Carlos Jean’s score is practically omnipresent, occasionally surging into uplifting pop songs with lyrics that fuse the banal and the incomprehensible into an entirely new language.

Production companies: Antena 3 Films, Canal+, La Sexta, Zeta Audiovisual
Cast: Alex Gonzalez, Adriana Ugarte, Alberto Ammann, Maria Castro, Christian Mulas
Director: Daniel Calparsoro
Screenwriters: Carlos Montero, Jaime Vaca, Calparsoro
Producers: Francisco Ramos, Mercedes Gamero
Director of photography: Daniel Aranyo
Production designer: Anton Laguna
Music: Carlos Jean
Costume designer: Loles Garcia
Editor: David Pinillos, Antonio Frutos
Sound: Sergio Burmann, James Munoz, Nicolas de Poulpiquet
Sales: Film Factory Entertainment

No rating, 104 minutes