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Guardian Angel

James M. Cain meets Frank Tashlin in 'El Crimen Perfecto,' a feverish comedy about murder

By Richard von Busack

RAFAEL'S MOTHER died in childbirth on the floor of Yeyo's, Madrid's exclusive department store. Although he is a cock-of-the-walk salesman who applies the teaching of Nietzsche to the flogging of apparel, Rafael is haunted by the thought that he was born at Yeyo's and will probably die there. As played by Guillermo Toledo, the salesman antihero of Álex de la Iglesias' very shrewd El Crimen Perfect (a.k.a. The Perfect Crime, jokingly misspelled in the credits as El Crimen Ferpecto), Rafael is equally handy at seducing a floorwalker or gently pushing a middle-aged lady into purchasing a 12,000-Euro dress. Toledo brings out the unruffablility of Rafael, but he is a thug, too—he is heavy in the jaw and black in the eyes, and looks like a finishing-school version of Warren Oates.

Rafael has grounds for his wariness. Management pits him against a rival salesman, Antonio (Luis Varela), a baleful middle-aged creep in a plaid suit and a recycled-looking toupee. The job of floor manager has been open ever since the last one dropped dead in the toy department, and Rafael and Antonio engage in snarling combat over the position. The bosses "thought it would be funny to watch us tear each other apart," Rafael tells the camera. When the two men finally have at it, Antonio ends up dead on a dressing-room floor, accidentally killed by his rival. Rafael tries to dispose of the body, but it vanishes: the only clue is a greeting card with a drawing of a sad clown on it, addressed from "Your guardian angel."

This angel is strictly from the Other Place. Toothy but dumpy Lourdes (Mónica Cervera) has had a dreadful crush on Rafael for a decade, and she quickly blackmails him into being her boy toy. Cervera looks happily like Andrea Martin of SCTV—short-chinned, mad in the eyes. She is sex-starved and possessive and soon owns Rafael. Since murder got him into trouble, he begins to plan a second killing to get his freedom.

El Crimen Ferpecto—the title parodies a popular Spanish film—is like a James M. Cain melodrama as orchestrated by Frank Tashlin. De la Iglesias uses the cartoon moments and slapstick as accent, and he has fine rhythms, as in the scene when the head of a foaming Rottweiler interrupts a pair of lovers. The slow cooking of Rafael's goose is as funny as the crazier candy-colored second half, when Antonio's lime-green ghost starts haunting Rafael. The pushy Lourdes has a thing for clowns, and forces the quivering Rafael to take her to the amusement park every free weekend. Fortunately, Cervera, a former dancer, has a sparkle to her, so that we never feel too sorry for Lourdes and the homely way she's made up. At the end, when Rafael snaps and calls her ugly, she defies her lover's verdict. While De la Iglesias has been compared to Almodóvar, he's really more like a lost Iberian Coen brother. Like the Coens, he enjoys the turn of a phrase as much as he enjoys mashing up noir and cartoons. The deftness with the language is not always captured in the subtitles, but what you can catch is tasty. It's the first time I've heard "Feed the bird" used as an expression for sex.

El Crimen Perfecto (Unrated; 105 min.), directed by Álex de la Iglesia, written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Álex de la Iglesia, photographed by José L. Moreno and starring Guillermo Toledo and Mónica Cervera, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the September 7-13, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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