Director: Javier Fesser
Starring: Benito Pocino, Pepe Viyuela, Paco Sagarzazu, Mariano Venancio, Dominique Pinon, Janfri Topera, Emilio Gavira, Maria Isbert, Berta Ojea, Javier Aller
Music: Rafael Arnau and Mario Gosálvez
Mortadelo and Filemón (Mortadelo y Filemón) is one of the most popular comic strip series in Spain. It was created by Francisco Ibáñez and appeared for the first time in 1958. I must admit I have never read any of these comics and coming into this film, I was ignorant of who Mortadelo and Filemón were. So my review is based on the movie as a stand-alone piece. I cannot judge if it is a successful comic adaptation (from the buzz on the internet, it would appear it is very faithful to the comic books, and was quite a success to boot).
The movie is essentially a comedic spy spoof, and a comedy spy spoof is a dicey proposition at best. For every good one, there are five truly awful ones. I think the reason for this poor conversion rate is the fact that most spy films have an element of humour in them to begin with. Some feature outrageous gadgets and implausible villains, others go for corny dialogue and double entendres. So a spy spoof has to be really silly to compete; and extreme broad comedy is hard to do well. On top of that, humour doesn’t seem to travel across international borders very well.
Enough about comedy – on with the review for this very, very broad Spanish comedy Mortadelo and Filemón: The Big Adventure. This film is off the Richter scale for bizarre characters and situations. Despite the set ups, there are very few genuine laughs. Like a Warner Bros. Cartoon the film features rockets, giant hammers, explosions, silly costumes, (misplaced Eskimos) but the characters aren’t likeable or introduced to us in an accessible way. Maybe fans of the comics need no introduction, but ‘tourists’ like me will find it difficult to find an emphatic character to latch on to.
The film opens at the T.I.A. Headquarters (Técnicos de Investigación Aeroterráquea – TIA is also the Spanish word for ‘aunt’ – and obviously similar to C.I.A.), and Professor Bacterio (Janfri Topera) is trying to create a new D.D.T. weapon, which looks like a space aged rifle. In this instance, D.D.T. stands for ‘Daunting Demoraliser of Troops.’ Yuk it up, because it gets worse. The Professor’s just can’t quite get the weapon to work. Then his concentration is interrupted by a Tricopter colepterous anopheles karaoke – or to us normal people – a singing mosquito. The mosquito sings along with the radio as the Professor tries to kill it, almost destroying his laboratory in the process. One of the Professor’s lusty blows, knocks over the D.D.T. weapon and it springs to life. The experiment is a success.
Almost too successful. The weapon sends off demoralizing rays throughout the T.I.A. facility, and the guards all become disinterested and lock themselves away. This allows a petty thief to break in and steal the weapon. The thief gained access through an elaborate tunnel system that runs beneath the complex. Unfortunately, the tunnels were being guarded by two inept secret agents, Mortadelo (Benito Pocino) and Filemón (Pepe Viyuela). The thief tries to sell the weapon to a dictator of a country called Tyrannia. The ruler of Tyrannia plans to invade England and turn Buckingham Palace into a villa estate. In response, the Superintendent of TIA (Mariano Venancio) assigns an American agent, Fredy Mazas (Dominique Pinon) to recover the D.D.T.
Jealous and disgraced, Filemon and Mortadelo also try to retrieve the weapon, hoping to return to good favour with the T.I.A. The remainder of the film is primarily their escapades as they try to accomplish this, but plot isn’t important here. Most of the scenes are simply an excuse to hang some absurd sight gags on. Most don’t work and towards the end of the film, things certainly start to drag.
Regardless of whether the humour in this film hits your funny bone, one thing that cannot be denied is the amazing production design and special effects. As much as I hate CGI, here it is used seamlessly and to great effect.
As I said at the outset, comedy doesn’t cross international boundaries well. Maybe (and that’s a big ‘maybe’) if you are Spanish and grew up on the comic books as a child, and your sense of humour tends toward the absurd and juvenile, then you may enjoy this feature. But I found this to be one of the most painful espionage experiences I have had to endure in quite some time.
But that’s not the end – there’s more – 2008 is the 50th anniversary of Mortadelo and Filemón and in honour of that momentous occasion, they have made another film Mortadelo and Filemón: Mission – Save The Planet. I am not queuing up for that one, but somebody must love the characters.