Perdita Durango

(Álex de la Iglesia, Mexico/Spain/USA, 1997)


Perdita Durango – a wild, trashy, often disconcerting action-melodrama mixing sex, blood and action – has energy and attitude to burn.

The central characters alone almost carry this sprawling, ambitious enterprise. Rosie Perez has the role of her career as Perdita – a foul mouthed, pistol-wielding sex bomb previously incarnated on screen in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990).

Luckily, Perdita finds her match in Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem from Live Flesh [1997]). This enormous, powerful, ever-grinning man admires just about every low-down act of which Perdita is capable. They are a perfect criminal team in the Bonnie and Clyde tradition: they will fleece anyone if it serves their mutual dream of one day escaping to the good life.

Adapted from a story by Barry Gifford (Lost Highway [1997]), Perdita Durango boasts less a coherent storyline than a string of outlandish characters, situations and settings. Like many contemporary films, it plays like a rambling road movie, with one concession to the thriller genre – Perdita and Romeo carry a valuable cachet which attracts a bewildering succession of cops and crooks.

The film is full of sweaty sex scenes, grotesquely violent clinches and a restless, neurotic commotion. It is forever on the verge of becoming either a cartoon or a horror movie.

For once, the trailer for the film captures the essence of the project: a barrage of pointed guns, grimacing expressions and unzipped pants, all set to a pounding array of cleverly selected rock tunes. The film revels in its lack of propriety or political correctness, and fairly screams at us how terribly naughty and amoral it is.

Trying to fit this circus of attractions into a conventional narrative, however, proves a little harder. Director and co-writer Álex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast, 1995) appears to think it is enough to have colourful characters, a lurid visual style and an ever-changing, garish backdrop.

What he sorely needs is a few more plot moves and greater intrigue. For all its bump and grind, the film has a lazy, never-ending feel. At two hours running time, it far outstays its welcome. (And the print distributed in Australia, it seems, is incomplete.)

Once our anti-heroes take Estelle and Duane – two blonde, teenage, all-American idiots – as handy hostages, an interesting four-way situation begins to develop. Perdita becomes jealously fixated on the thought that Romeo pines, above all, for Estelle – an improbable but perverse possibility.

Unfortunately, the film does little with this simmering tension. A late attempt to twist the situation further – by indicating Romeo's matching jealousy for Duane – is completely unconvincing.

Like many ambling, exhibitionistic movies, Perdita Durango has problems finding a satisfying structure – or even a good place to end. But, whenever it fires, the film is a gruesomely entertaining spectacle.

© Adrian Martin October 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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