Neon Flesh (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Showbox Entertainment) Running time: 102 minutes approx.
A Barcelona street kid named Ricky (Mario Casas) wants to earn the respect of his ex-prostitute mother Pura (Ángela Molina) who is due to be released from prison by opening a brothel for her. Ricky recruits his friends, pimp Angelito (Vicente Romero), simple muscle man Kid (Luciano Cáceres), junkie call girl Scrag (Macarena Gomez) and transvestite hooker Princess (Dámaso Conde), to help him get the club set up, but by stepping on the toes of criminal kingpin Chino (Darío Grandinetti) and porn movie producer Frida (Susana Varela), they find their endeavours hugely jeopardised. For Ricky, he has an extra worry when he learns that Rura is suffering from Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognise him.
Writer/director Paco Cabezas has clearly been enamoured with Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels era Guy Ritchie if Neon Flesh is any indication. If the freeze frame introductions and fancy in situ onscreen name tags don’t give that away nothing will. Keen eyes will also spot a few obvious nods in the direction of Cabezas’s home country legend Pedro Almodóvar with the ribald black humour and early Quentin Tarantino with the unbridled violence. But make no mistake that this is a simple homage, Neon Flesh has enough murky and subversive appeal to stand on its own merits – whatever they may be as some of the politically incorrect humour is bound to be too much for some tastes. For example, Angelito tries to educate his new line-up of illegal immigrant hookers on what sort of sex their punters will desire, he uses a bestiality porn video from which we see some edited but unambiguous clips. How that got past the BBFC even with an 18 certificate I have no idea but it did, so be warned!
The premise of Ricky building a whorehouse for his mother is of course wholly ludicrous but it suits the irreverence of the film and somehow almost manages to come across as noble. Lest we forget however, that Ricky and his hapless friends are from the seedy side of the street so altruism is not instinctively high on their agenda. By getting into the bonking business they make some very unpleasant enemies, starting with not telling Chino about setting up shop on his turf then stealing the best girls at a cattle auction from under his nose. Conflicts arise when Kid helps out a heavily pregnant illegal immigrant Mobila (Vanessa Oliveira). Ricky takes her on as a hooker – only for her to give birth on their opening night – but she catches the eye of Frida’s porn director (Juan Carlos Vellido) so, with Angelito held at gun point, Ricky to sell Mobila to Frida, while her newborn baby son will get Ricky the cash to pay off Chino. As if all this wasn’t enough there is a subplot involving the death of Chino’s teenage son whilst under police arrest which was covered up. Seeking vengeance on the man in charge, detective Santos (Antonio de la Torre), Chino has his sights set on Santos’s attention seeking teenage daughter Verónica (Blanca Suárez).
A lot there to take in and while most of is flows naturally, the latter mentioned subplot feels tacked on and only comes to the fore in the final act to give us a claret soaked denouement that contrast with the comparatively lighter tone of the preceding hour and half. Truth be told, it is a decent enough plot line to work on its own film and maybe Cabezas should have saved it for his next film; by the same token this film’s main premise works well as enough a dark comedy romp for it to stay the course, but what’s done is done. That is not to say that the two contrasting elements aren’t handled well enough by Cabezas – the humour is very black but snappy and brings with it some smart and often very funny moments, while the tension in the final act is well constructed, laced with bloody violent action leading to a touching closing scene. Clearly both these elements will have their fans and their detractors so the overall success depends on one’s individual tolerance of both.
Set as it is against a criminal and underworld background the violence is what you would expect it to be with lashings of blood, severed body parts and very unpleasant torture methods. It is therefore the humour which will be the more testing. The aforementioned bestiality video scene is an indicator of how low things go but there are some well crafted jokes here. One amusing set up is built around Alzheimer’s sufferer Pura being entrusted with the exchange of Moblia’s baby to a wealthy childless couple then dropping off Mobila at Frida’s place to make a porn film. And I defy anyone not to get a kick out of the last minute masks Ricky, Angelito and Kid are forced to wear during a raid.
As one would expect from a film based around criminal prostitution the characters are cut from a fairly familiar cloth but Cabezas is fortunate to have a strong cast, lead by an earnest Mario Casas and Vicente Romero, and including past Almodóvar collaborators Ángela Molina, Antonio de la Torre and Blanca Suárez, who make his motley crew of miscreants come alive with conviction. A nod also goes to Macarena Gomez for making her drug addled, toothless, “can’t give it away” hooker Scrag into a sympathetic and deceptively deep character.
Neon Flesh is a film which wears its influences on its sleeve and does plumb a few unnecessary depths within the context of its bawdy premise but it shouldn’t be condemned because of this. Enjoy this for what it is – an audacious, slick, gritty, amusing, dark, blood soaked, sexy popcorn flick for adults!
Spanish Language 5.1 & 2.0 (DVD)
DTS HD Spanish Language 5.1 & 2.0 (BluRay)
Dolby Digital Spanish Language 2.0 (BluRay)
Ratings – ***
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