‘Kryptonite’ (‘Kryptonita’): Film Review

KRYPTONITE still 1 _ h 2016
Courtesy of Crudo Films
Superheroes, intriguingly brought down to human scale.

Nicanor Loreti’s film is a delirious, Buenos Aires-based recasting of the DC Comics universe.

If Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and other heroic denizens of the DC Comics universe came together as a gang of modern-day Robin Hoods in the emergency room of a barrio hospital in Buenos Aires, what would happen? It’s not an issue that many have wondered about, but happily director Nicanor Loreti (responsible for 2011’s award-winning Devil), via Leonardo Oyola in his same-name novel, has done so. The result is B-movie, comic-book, low-budget fun with plenty of edge, a smart, sharp attempt by a cash-strapped industry to appropriate Hollywood icons as its own. Since its December 2015 release, the film has understandably become a pop cult at home, with a follow-up TV series now in the works.

It’s a fine idea, enabled by DC Comics’ own Elseworlds imprint, which abstracts DC characters from their universe, meaning they can be adapted to anytime or anywhere, and it suggests that other locally nuanced adaptations are not out of the question. Because Kryptonite shows how the superheroes can overcome the biggest challenge of all -- a limited budget.

Exhausted, pill-driven failure Dr. Gonzalez (Diego Velazquez) is working the night shift as he listens to a radio story about how a criminal gang has robbed a bank and delivered the proceeds to a soup kitchen. A wounded petty criminal is brought in and Gonzalez has to listen to the taunts of greasy, corruption-dripping cop Ventura (the always watchable Luis Ziembrowski) as the thief dies despite his attempts to revive him. It’s a dark world, the script suggests, in which even the doctors are physical wrecks who are unable to save lives, while the cops encourage them, depending on who the patient is, to let their patients die.

But a bigger challenge for Gonzalez and his faithful nurse, Nilda (Susana Varela) is to come with the arrival of the the Super Gasoline gang itself, who are devoted to using strong-arm tactics in the name of justice — and in Kryptonite, justice does not, as Ventura has just shown us, equal the law. The gang members are an appealingly motley crew, until it slowly and satisfyingly dawns on us that they’re each built on a DC hero: transvestite Lady Di (Lautoro Delgado), plus headband, is the Wonder Woman figure; The Flash (Diego Cremonesi), signaled by his red hood; Cunatai Guira (Sofia Palomino) as a Guarani-speaking Hawkgirl; and the rest.

Especially eye-catching is the monosyllabic John Weird (Argentine singer Carca as The Martian Manhunter, featuring truly interplanetary sideburns): still to come are Batman, El Federico (Pablo Rago) and the Joker, Corona (Argentinean comedian Diego Capusotto in a screen-chewing, whiteface cameo as an intermediary between gang and police). They bring with them badly wounded Pinino, aka Super Gasoline (Juan Palomino, the star of Devil) himself, the Superman figure (in this world, Superman is vulnerable to shards of green glass), and charge Gonzalez with saving his life before dawn as the characters reveal their various backstories in dialogues which will be frustratingly long for action seekers, but which teem with references designed to keep comic buffs happy and some deliciously sly wit. The gang’s arch enemy is described as someone who thinks he’s a big shot because he drinks imported rather than local beer. Meanwhile, the police, recognizing a unique opportunity to eliminate the gang, encircle the hospital in preparation for the final showdown.

All of which creates outsized viewing expectations which will inevitably be disappointed, given Kryptonite’s limited budget and the inevitable predominance of dialogue over action. But if you downscale those expectations, you’re left with a tightly scripted, imaginatively lensed item which is indeed B-movie-ish, but not schlockishly so, in which due respect is accorded to the characters and their plights, and which even makes room for a little authentic emotion, as when Lady Di tries to talk Super Gasoline back into consciousness.

"God hasn’t been in this emergency room for a long time now," says Dr. Gonzalez, and helmer Loreti, d.p. Mariano Suarez and production designer Catalina Oliva persuade viewers that it’s true with a camera that circles slowly, endlessly round the claustrophobic spaces of the hospital, squeezing real atmosphere from the limited space of the emergency room and and limited budget available for the action scenes. Less sure is Dario Georges’ plinky electro score, seemingly 1970s-inspired for no clear reason.

Production companies: Boikot Film, El Cono de Silencio, Crudo Films
Cast: Juan Palomino, Pablo Rago, Diego Velazquez, Lautaro Delgado, Nicolas Vazquez, Diego Capusotto, Diego Cremonesi, Susana Varela, Sofía Palomino, Carca, Luis Ziembrowski
Director: Nicanor Loreti
Screenwriters: Nicanor Loreti, Camilo De Cabo, based on a novel by Leonardo Oyola
Producers: Jimena Monteoliva, Nicanor Loreti
Director of photography: Mariano Suarez
Production designer: Catalina Oliva
Costume designer: Laura Cacherosky
Editors: Nicanor Loreti, Francisco Freixa
Composer: Dario Georges
Casting director:
Sales: Energia Entusiasta

Not rated, 79 minutes