For those who caught the hugely entertaining Mirageman a couple of years ago, the appearance at this year’s LA Film Festival of the same Chilean team’s Mandrill was cause for excited expectation that was pretty much fulfilled.
As the earlier film was a loving, tongue-in-cheek homage to the ’70s exploitation action film, so too is Mandrill, casting the hugely-appealing Marko Zaror this time as an eponymous Bondian hitman, inspired equally by fictitious movie super-agent John Colt (with highly amusing and spot-on film clips) as by the childhood murder of his parents. Unfortunately for him, the daughter of his long-sought target is a beautiful and feisty young woman who provides him first with the challenge of seduction and subsequently that of staying alive.
The film wears its superficiality happily on its sleeve, reveling in the hard bright light of glamorous commercial photography in sun-drenched exteriors or golden casino interiors, and in the superlative fighting skills of Zaror (with only a minimum of digital assistance). Motivation and characterisation are unashamedly clear-cut, although the sympathy-eliciting cracks in Mandrill’s tough-guy persona are a little over-exposed – his tears flow readily, and when denuded of his designer shades his eyes reveal too clearly the slow-moving cogs behind to convince as those of an invincible super-man. But otherwise Zaror is a pleasure to watch, perfectly named, an inexorable, manly force with something of both the monkey’s cunning and simple-mindedness.
The film’s well-judged momentum falters only towards the end, in an oddly curtailed sequence that starts like some trial of strength in grainily-shot rooms (only two) containing ever-tougher opponents; it had the makings of a beautiful series of abstracted confrontations, given the fighting and film-making skills, but it cuts abruptly and disappointingly to the climactic showdown, which itself fails to build on the earlier confrontation that it reprises. But the film is carried off with enough style and such good humour, particularly in flashbacks to a (well-cast) younger Mandrill and his caring and amusing uncle, and the pastiche is so lovingly accurate – including a vibrant soundtrack of exploitation funk, Barry-esque Bond lines and hopping tropicalia – that deficiencies of construction and rhythm (tension is too often curiously under-milked and the script was concocted on the run whilst shooting) are quite happily overlooked for the sake of plain simple enjoyment, fondly stylish film-making, and the prospect of an unashamedly set-up sequel.