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ACCIÓNE MUTANTE (1993)

"We’re soldiers of the mutant army!….We’re fed up with all these shit diet products! We’re fed up with perfumes, ads for cars, and mineral water! We don’t want to smell nice or lose weight!"

Director: Alex de la Iglesia

Starring: Antonio Resines, Frederique Feder, Alex Angulo, Fernando Guellen, Karra Elejalde, Saturnino Garcia, Juan Viadas, Ion Gavella, Alfonso Martinez, Enrique San Francisco, Jaime Blanch

Screenplay: Jorge Guerriaechevarria and Alex de la Iglesia

Synopsis: In a dystopian future, the terrorist group Mutant Action attempts the kidnapping of a famous bodybuilder, slipping a plastic bag over their victim’s head. While the terrorists are arguing over whether the bag should have holes in it, their victim dies…. The JQK TV crime reporter (Jaime Blanch) gives an overview of the ten-year history of Mutant Action, a group of disabled militants who wage war against the beautiful and healthy. The reporter suggests that the kidnap attempt was linked to the imminent release from jail of Mutant Action’s leader, Ramon Yarritu (Antonio Resines), who has half his face missing. The members of Mutant Action, all dressed in evening clothes, collect Ramon when his sentence ends. Returning to the group’s spaceship headquarters, Ramon finds everything in a state of disrepair. Glancing at a large, incomplete artificial cake, Ramon orders his subordinates to finish it while he goes to change his clothes. He also tells the group’s mechanic, Handyman (Karra Elejalde), who lives in a body brace, to feed "the cat", a monstrous creature that lives beneath the floor of the spaceship. Ramon and his team take their cake to the colossal mansion where the wedding of wholemeal bread heiress Patricia Orujo (Frederique Feder) is being held. The robotic guards will only let two of the gang inside the compound. Siamese twins Alex (Alex Angulo) and Juan (Saturnino Garcia) Abadis wheel the "cake" in. After a futile attempt to talk the rest of the gang inside, Ramon orders M.A. (Alfonso Martinez), an enormous deaf-mute, to blow the guards away. The gang pushes the cake through the throng of guests. Ramon orders Alex and Juan to make the mechanical band play a particular song at the moment that Patricia and her husband, Luis Maria de Ostolaza (Enrique San Francisco), are cutting the cake. This will be the signal for M.A. to douse the lights, and for the Hunchback (Ion Gavella), who is concealed in the cake, to seize Patricia. Unfortunately, when Alex and Juan approach the jukebox, they find they have no money. As the pair argues, Patricia plunges a knife into the cake. A scream of agony is heard, and Patricia stares in horror at the bloody knife. Mortally wounded, the Hunchback bursts from the cake and opens fire with a machine-gun, slaughtering most of the guests. M.A. knocks Luis unconscious, and Ramon captures Patricia. The police arrive. Ramon sends M.A. to deal with them, but he is shot dead. The Hunchback dies, but the rest of the gang escapes. Orujo (Fernando Guellen), Patricia’s father, receives a video from Ramon, in which he is instructed to take the one hundred million ransom to the Lost Mine Bar on the planet Axturias. Orujo swears vengeance. In space, the terrorists escape detection by posing as transporters of frozen seafood. Alex and Juan play cards with Handyman, betting their shares of the ten million ransom. A fight breaks out when Handyman insists that the twins are due for only one share, not two. Timebomb (Juan Viadas), a legless man who travels on a floating disc, and who keeps explosives strapped to his body, turns on a news report of the kidnapping. The gang members are shocked to learn that Ramon has demanded one hundred million, not ten, as they were told. The gang confronts Ramon, who scoffs at them for believing what they hear on TV. Sending the twins and Timebomb to various parts of the ship to do maintenance, Ramon then dispatches Handyman by feeding him to "the cat". When the others, hearing Handyman’s screams, rush to the control room, they find Ramon trying to "rescue" his victim. As Handyman dies, Ramon turns to his remaining crew and announces solemnly that there is a traitor in their midst….

Comments: Great premise, disappointing execution…. For about half of its running time – the first half-hour, the final fifteen minutes – this is an inventive and entertaining movie; but unfortunately, between those bookends it completely loses its way. Set in the not-too-distant future, Acción Mutante posits a world where the desire for physical perfection has spawned a ruling class of the most wealthy and beautiful; where robots do most of the actual work while the "real" people spend their time striving to join the elite; and where anyone not meeting the extreme physical ideal is shunned and outcast. Rising up in opposition is the terrorist group, Mutant Action, which consists wholly of the physically and mentally disabled. Led by facially scarred Ramon Yarritu, the gang has made it their mission to strike back against the worst manifestations of the ruling culture – namely, any persons famous for their physique alone, health organisations, and semen banks. In a special news report, we see some examples of the terrorists in action, including - in a sequence guaranteed to warm the heart of any couch potato watching – the gunning down of a TV aerobics team in the middle of a broadcast. Unfortunately, after Ramon is jailed on weapons charges, the gang’s constant bungling (the bomb planted beneath a fashion show goes off an hour after everyone has left the building) makes them the object of laughter rather than terror. Collected from the gates of his prison by his loyal followers (in an ice cream van, and to the strains of the theme from Mission: Impossible), Ramon reveals his plan for rectifying the situation: the kidnapping of the heiress to the Orujo wholemeal bread empire (!!) in the middle of her wedding. Infiltrating the reception by posing as the pastry chefs responsible for the cake, the terrorists find themselves in the midst of the cream of the society against which they are fighting – and if we didn’t sympathise with them before, we do now! While the early part of Acción Mutante is consistently audacious, funny and gross, the wedding sequence is simply unforgettable (and more than anything else, feels influenced by the film’s producer, Pedro Almodovar). The wedding guests turn out to be a writhing mass of "beautiful people", male and female, and occasionally ambiguously gendered (in an imaginative touch, it is these last – referred to scornfully by Ramon as "designer poofters" – who earn the tribute of a kiss on the hand). In a moment of supreme visual horror, the camera sweeps around the room – past the robotic minister that presumably performed the ceremony - and gives the viewer a horribly clear look at the guests: the makeup, the hair, the clothing, the surgically rendered body shapes. (It is made quite clear here that the society’s struggle for physical perfection has had the same effect that it does in the canine world – i.e. a concomitant loss of mental ability….) And in the midst of this mob of made-to-order morons, all of whom dance enthusiastically to idiotic pop music (retro-pop – you’ll recognise it!), the vacuous, giggling Patricia Orujo and her equally asinine bridegroom prepare to cut their cake. This should be the moment of the terrorists’ triumph, but again disaster strikes. Waiting for the musical cue meant to precipitate his emergence from the cake, the concealed Hunchback becomes an inadvertent victim when Patricia plunges in a knife while Alex and Juan, the Siamese twins, are still trying to find change for the jukebox. As Patricia screams in horror, the Hunchback lurches out of the cake and begins gunning down the guests. Too late, the twins find the necessary coin, and as cheerful bubblegum music rings out, a massacre ensues. The Hunchback dies of his stab wound, and the hulking M.A. is shot by the police, but the rest of the gang escapes with their hostage to the spaceship that doubles as their headquarters. Blasting off, the terrorists head for the planet Axturias, where the ransom drop is to occur. And that, unfortunately, is where Acción Mutante begins to fall apart. Having set up this fascinating premise, and so skillfully created an entire society to act as backdrop to it, the film-makers simply throw it all away.

Once on board the spaceship, Ramon sets about ridding himself of the other members of the gang, for reasons that are never revealed. Was he simply using his fellow outcasts all along? Did his time in jail alter his beliefs? Did his gang’s incompetent bungling turn him against them? We never know – although Ramon’s actions suggest the first alternative. The trouble starts when a television news report reveals that the actual ransom figure is one hundred million, not the ten million that Ramon told his followers. (In a hilarious moment, the figure $100,000,000 whirls around onscreen like the prize on a quiz show.) When the mutants venture to ask Ramon about this discrepancy, he dismisses it, telling them that ten million is the correct figure, and that the other is simply a piece of false information meant to sow dissension amongst the kidnappers. Having for the moment soothed his followers’ suspicions, Ramon then begins disposing of them, one by one. The first to go is the Handyman, fed headfirst to "the cat" and dying in a shower of gore and burped-up body parts. As the twins and Timebomb arrive too late to help, Ramon informs them that there is a traitor in the organisation. Bewildered by this revelation, the others set themselves to discovering the guilty party (Alex having to reassure his twin that it isn’t him). Ramon corners Timebomb in his laboratory and detonates the explosives he wears strapped to his body. Shortly afterwards, Alex wakes to find himself covered in blood, and discovers that his twin has been dispatched via a hatchet in the forehead. Alex pulls a gun on Ramon but, hampered by his dead brother, loses his advantage, and a violent fight ends with Ramon apparently killing Alex with a blow to the head. During the struggle, the spaceship’s faulty brake line is severed, and the ship crashes on the planet Axturias. Both Ramon and his hostage survive the impact, and must walk endless miles across the desert to the rendezvous. Meanwhile, Alex, too, has staggered from the wreck, and follows the pair torn between his determination to revenge himself on the treacherous Ramon, and his feelings for Patricia, for whom he has conceived a seemingly hopeless passion.

What humour is to be found in the next stretch of the film centres about Alex and his travails. Collapsing in the middle of the desert, he eventually comes to to find vultures picking at his increasingly pungent twin. Alex is rescued by a blind miner (who demonstrates his skills in taxidermy on the unfortunate Juan) before being ambushed by a whooping mob of psychotic miners, and having a close encounter with the local Hangin’ Tree - although luckily, the miners choose to string up Juan rather than Alex himself. Alex does finally escape this predicament, and covers the final leg of his journey hampered not just by his dead brother, but by the Hangin’ Branch and a length of rope as well. Meanwhile, Ramon and Patricia have been undergoing trials of their own - none of which, I’m sad to say, is even remotely funny. The early stages of the film establish Patricia as the very embodiment of the society that Mutant Action was striking against. A closer look at the girl further reveals that she is a giggling, motormouthed, airheaded bimbo. This, we gather, is supposed to excuse the escalating torrent of abuse that she is subjected to over the course of the film. Our first look at the girl at the kidnapper’s headquarters reveals her chained to a chair with her mouth, not gagged, but stapled shut. (That this shot is the still most often reproduced from the film is a worry in itself.) After being forced to watch the bloody elimination of the crew, Patricia then suffers through Ramon’s attempts to "clean her up" before her father sees her, having the staples very slowly extracted, one by one. This has barely been completed before the spaceship crashes on Axturias. Patricia is knocked out briefly, then regains consciousness to reveal that she has developed a wholly inexplicable passion for her abductor. This, even Ramon finds ridiculous. "Not Stockholm Syndrome! Not now!" he exclaims in disgust, as Patricia tries to demonstrate her devotion to him by offering to help kill her father. Determined to make the Lost Mine Bar in the minimum amount of time, Ramon starts the trek across the desert, dragging Patricia along the ground by her hair. Tiring, he then insists that the girl walk after him, their journey being broken only by Ramon stopping to punch his hostage hard in the face every time he feels that she’s talking too much - which is often. Needless to say, Patricia bounces back from each of these assaults more obsessed with her abductor than ever. This section of the film reaches its nadir when the pair falls into the hands of a trio of crazed, sex-starved miners, who proceed to tie Patricia to a bed and gang rape her - an incident shrugged off by the film-makers and the victim with equal casualness. The next thing we know, Patricia and Ramon have escaped, and are on their way to the rendezvous. Just how this is managed we never exactly learn, although we do know that it was facilitated by Patricia giving a ten year old boy the gift of her used underpants....

Acción Mutante redeems itself somewhat during the final section of the film, where it manages to regain at least part of the air of anarchic black humour that infused the opening sequences. The Lost Mine Bar is the scene of the ransom drop, and pretty much every character who is still standing converges upon it, including ubiquitous crime reporter Jaime Blanch and his camera crew. In an hysterical scene, Ramon and Orujo conduct their ransom negotiations from the opposite ends of the bar, pausing between each statement to allow the cameraman and the boom mike guy to scuttle into position. Unfortunately for Ramon, he learns that Orujo doesn’t want Patricia back - and that he has every intention of committing suicide and taking everyone at the Lost Mine with him. This final threat is forestalled by the arrival of the vengeful Alex (Juan still in tow), and the film finishes pretty much as it began - with a bloodbath. Despite this, Acción Mutante manages, most unexpectedly, to provide a happy ending. Less unexpectedly, perhaps, it is a happy ending involving gunfire, explosions, severed limbs, and an astronomical body count.

It is a great shame that Acción Mutante runs off the rails so completely during its middle section, because in many ways it has a great deal going for it. Everything about the film belies its comparatively low budget. In particular, it looks fantastic, creating a believable grungy world for its mutants to inhabit, and a hilariously repellent environment for its beautiful people, too. (My only complaint is that some of the scenes were a little underlit, but this may have been my print.) The special effects are also well executed. (The same team would later do Delicatessen - it shows.) Up until the disposal of the mutants by their leader, this is a bloody, funny, wildly imaginative exercise. However, the killing off of the disabled terrorists leaves the film struggling to find a voice. Incredibly, it seems as if director Alex de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerriaechevarria simply didn’t realise the potential of the scenario they had devised – nor what effect it would have upon an audience. We want to know more about these "mutants" and their battle against soulless perfection; and about the workings of the society that created the two opposing forces. However, the film-makers seem to have had no such interest in the world or the people that they created. Although much of Acción Mutante seems informed by Peter Jackson’s early work, and other films such as Brian Yuzna’s Society, what struck me while watching it was how completely its premise could have been lifted from a John Waters movie. But of course, if this had been a John Waters movie, it would truly have been about the mutants - their banding together, their battle, and ultimately - can we doubt it? - their victory! But no such sympathy for the dispossessed is present in Acción Mutante. Instead, Alex de la Iglesia shows the same contempt for the mutants that his ruling elite does, depicting them - with the possible exception of Alex - as a bunch of hopelessly stupid, bungling incompetents, easily used, abused, and when convenient, disposed of. (A propos, I was amused to note that Ramon keeps his motley crew in line by using exactly the same tactics as those employed by Spencer Tracy in Pat And Mike.) Once Mutant Action has been bloodily disbanded, we are left with a story that is occasionally funny, frequently violent, and almost ceaselessly tasteless - but which displays all too little of the satirical humour that underlies the opening sequences, and which there serves to disarm many of the story’s uglier aspects. In the end, Acción Mutante is a film suffering from an increasingly common complaint: it has no heart. 

 

 
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