Spain (2021) Dir. Daniel Benmayor
Family – or “fam” as the kidz say these days – has long been a term of nebulous meaning in that blood or shared DNA is not always an essential requirement to be considered family, you just have to be close. As ever, this open to abuse or moments of amnesia if a situation demands it and blood is no longer shared but spilled instead.
Cancer stricken crime boss Ricardo (Juan Diego) sends his sons Lucero (Óscar Jaenada) and Maximo (Teo García) to meet an ally, but Lucero instead kills them. After sending Maximo home, Lucero confronts and kills Ricardo to take over the business, then orders the death of everyone under Ricardo’s purview, including Max and their sister Maria (Andrea Duro), resulting in the death of Max’s young son Ander (Joel Bramona).
Two years later, Lucero is still causing trouble among the criminal underworld in his pursuit of total command, with his right hand man Finito (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) doing the legwork. One of his associates, Jaro (Nao Albet) is using teenager Leo (Óscar Casas) to sell his drugs at a Russian nightclub, who is beaten for his efforts, until he is saved by a mysterious man – Max! With his son dead, Max wants revenge and when he learns of Leo’s connection to Lucero, he finally comes out of hiding for payback.
Whether you want to blame Taken, The Raid, or John Wick, the big action violent revenge flick has become en vogue over the past decade, with almost every territory throwing their hat in the ring with their version of it. Courtesy of Netflix, Spain joins the game with Xtremo (Extreme), providing plenty of stiff, martial arts inspired fights, chaotic gun battles, and copious amounts of blood spillage.
Director Daniel Benmayor has form in the action genre but his work thus far hasn’t been well received by critics or fans. Xtremo might change that for him, though again opinion is split. Co-conceived by leading man and action choreographer Teo García, the story is basic enough to provide a framework for the mayhem that ensues, but in fleshing it out, it focuses on the wrong areas, leaving the action to prove the entertainment.
Since “family” is the central theme, the script delivers an immediate out for the feud by revealing at the start that only Ricardo and Lucero are blood relatives – Maria was adopted whilst Max grew up with them and was treated like a son. This led Lucero to believe the business would be given to Max and Maria when Ricardo dies. A nasty piece of work, Lucero claims the more he became like his father the more Ricardo was afraid of him – funny, as everyone talks about Ricardo as a man of honour.
Maybe the criminal world has a different definition of what honour is, since Lucero and Max off people without flinching, the latter being a hitman/bodyguard for both father and son. It’s a job that pays well as Max and son Ander live in a cosy house although there is no mention of Ander’s mother at all. We do know that Ander is learning the guitar and idolises his dad – sadly, after Finito and friends show up, only Max and the guitar survive the house fire.
Leo happens to be a guitar player too when he is not selling drugs, avoiding fights with his mother, and looking out for his younger brother. He also has a girlfriend who wants him to quit dealing but Leo is saving up to get him and his brother away from his dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, he supplements his salary by telling Jaro business is slow and keeping the difference for himself, and being no fool, Jaro finds out.
Because the story is trying hard to make Max’s vengeance as multi-layered as possible, the inevitable supplanting of Leo for Anders as Max’s totem for revenge might be all too predictable, by the violent route they take to cement this certainly works. Their bond is covered by – what else? – as training montage in Max’s garage hideout, whilst Maria, also thought dead, is now operating out of the old family home as the tech expert and potential surrogate mother figure for Leo.
Providing of course they all stay alive. Nobody comes out of this unscathed, least of all Max despite being a walking weapon, deadly with his hands, feet, power tools, guns, blades, you name it. True to the old Bruce Lee formula (who is name-checked alongside Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan to describe Max), most of the encounters are one vs. many. They are superbly choreographed and well shot, set under varied circumstances to keep each battle fresh.
As the story adds more characters for Max to deal with, the character building becomes diluted to the point we either don’t know or forget what the motivation is for them. Finito has no purpose other than to be evil, arguably more believable as an antagonist than Lucero with his messiah complex. He is so confusing as a villain – he thinks he is a Yakuza, and is covered in Yakuza tattoos despite being Spanish.
He does have a loyal Japanese assassin Chul Moo (Alberto Jo Lee), which is more of a Korean name, but still. Óscar Jaenada at least looks the part as the deluded crime boss even if he does lapse into caricature on occasion, which Sergio Peris-Mencheta avoids as Finito. But, it is the fire plug figure of Teo García that surprises everyone, his stocky appearance and lived in, rather Nordic features the antithesis of a fighting hero, lighting up the screen as the surly but very real Max.
Xtremo achieves what it sets out to do, delivering a solid outing of bloodthirsty, kick-ass action, built round a story better served for a TV series to do the characters and plot threads justice. Spain may be late to the vengeance flick party but they make a hell of an entrance!