Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Frank Review of "Amores Perros" ("Love's a Bitch," 2000)

The Short Version? Mexican Tarantino
What Is It? Indie Action/Drama
Who's In It? Gael García Bernal.
Should I See It? Half of it.

I've had people recommend this flick to me since my days work as a video store clerk, so my girlfriend didn't have to twist my arm to finally sit down with it. Things start out strong with a car chase involving a wounded dog that ends in a multi-car wreck. Flashback to a few months prior, and we're introduced to the world of dog-fighting through our first protagonist, Octavio (Gael García Bernal.) Octavio has the hots for his schoolgirl sister-in-law Susana (Vanessa Bauche,) who had a baby with his abusive sibling Ramiro (Marco Pérez.) Tensions build as Octavio finds a champion in his brother's dog Cofi, a vicious gang of rivals, and new money begins flowing into his household. Subplots begin to surface with seemingly unrelated characters, but Octavio's story drives the film for 57 1/2 compelling minutes of crime fiction...

...and then it all goes to shit. Famed model Valeria (Goya Toledo) had popped up in passing a few times earlier, and her story jarringly takes center stage. From the grit of the barrio we're transported to a vapid upper class life that the filmmakers seem to have little interest in. That being the case, twists in her and Daniel's (Álvaro Guerrero) tale become a morality play straight out of a segment from an old British horror movie anthology. Even the slowest members of the audience now realize each tale will pivot around the too-clever devices of the car crash and the love of dogs ("Love's a Bitch," get it? Get it!?!) Guerrero sleepwalks, while Toledo does her best with an under-written part. The audience suffers for 36 1/2 minutes, including the continuations of a third subplot, and the complete absence of Octavio's arc.

El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría,) the derelict hitman, finally gets his turn. If that sounds like the set-up for one of the many awful Pulp Fiction knock-offs that plagued the mid-90s, your hearing is fine. This installment is downright silly, seeming more intent on tying the various threads of the film together than telling a fully coherent story of its own. A movie that start out with promise and my full interest creaked and groaned toward the 2:30 hour mark, stretched far beyond the breaking point.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's direction is solid throughout, but Guillermo Arriaga's script is overconfident and aimless, producing a film in desperate need of merciless editing. Even if the entire middle chapter were excised, El Chivo's eccentricities would be difficult to rein in, to the point where I'd just as soon see the first installment extended into its own feature. The soundtrack is excellent, at least.

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