Film of the Week: Torrente
‘Ey, chiquillo! When you ever seen an officer of the law in this country pay for anything?’
TimeOut slated the first flick in this slacker detective series, Dumb Arm of the Law as ‘broad, obvious, crude and visually ugly.’ Somehow they put their finger on just what people like about it. Santiago Segura’s farting, burping, grunting, swearing, shoplifting, racist, chauvinistic detective can be an eyebrow-raiser for Anglophone audiences unfamiliar with irreverent Spanish barstool humour. But in Spain the balding, sweating, Atletico-loving PI has become a cherished piece of ironic popular mythology. It's definitely funnier if you understand Spanish and don't need the diluted subtitles. That's not to say the jokes don't travel. At one point a Hollywood version was on the cards, with who else but the ultimate provocateur, Sacha Baron Cohen penciled in to play the role.
The humour is undoubtedly a throwback to a different era, when machos were machos with medallions on, foreigners were fair game, a menu del dia cost 600 pesetas, and Spain was, well, still… different. What makes the whole Torrente thing work is the quality of the actors - some of Iberia’s finest; Javier Camera, Tony LeBlanc, Chus Lampreave, Javier Bardem - and the ramshackle brilliance of Segura himself. One of the funniest comics around, Segura brings a crooked bravado and charm to the dirty, foul-mouthed bigot, whose only redeeming quality is that he acts with the same glib offensiveness towards anybody and everybody.
In the first Torrente movie, Dumb Arm of the Law, a pun on the Spanish release title of Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra: Strong Arm of the Law, the detective, who lives with his wheelchair-bound father, drives around a neon-lit Madrid grinning benevolently at various scenes of burglary, gang violence and thuggery to a soundtrack by copla pop legend El Fary, in what may or may not be a jolly tribute to the noctornal drivings of Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. He later stumbles fortuitously onto a cartel of narco-traficantes working out of a Chinese restaurant, (‘ey, Chinita. What’s this stuff? Bamboo? Do I look like a fucking panda?’) and ends up stealing a suitcase full of millions of pesetas.
Torrente 2, a parody of Miami Vice, with white suits, mustaches and things galore, takes up three years later. The millions having dried up on sports cars, gambling, lobsters on the beach and drunken orgies, Torrente goes autónomo, setting up his own private detective/insurance agency in a rented apartment in Marbella. Accompanying him is a hapless junky apprentice called Cuco and his pooch Franco. The three of them get caught up in a conflict between a terrorist organization run by a monkey-petting psychopath played by Jose Luis Moreno and a paedophilic local hood (Tony LeBlanc).
There are cameos by Javier Bardem, Inés Sastre and TV regulars El Gran Wyoming and Andreu Buenafente, while tennis star Carlos Moya tells Torrente to ‘take it up the arse’. Speakeasy chat-up lines include: ‘Chavalota, I’d do more things with you than McGyver could in Bricomania.’ ‘Your eyes are like pans, when I see them my eggs fry.’ ‘Oye, nena…do you believe in love at first sight, or am I going to have to walk by a second time?’ The best line though is left to a prostitute the detective tries to swindle. After asking him to wash his privates, to which he replies ‘que te pasa? Don’t you like cottage cheese?’, the prostitute sighs, ‘Vaya, I’m in luck, as well as being fat, he’s a pig. At least you’ll have a small one.’
Torrentes 3 and 4 weren’t as well-received critically as the first two movies, but featured a growing pantheon of superstar cameos such as Hugh Laurie, Oliver Stone and Benicio del Toro, and flirted with the latest 3D technology, thanks to a bigger budget. The 5th installment, Eurovegas, was a parody of the Ocean’s Eleven films with a cameo by Alec Baldwin, and signaled a return to form. Undoubtedly the pick of the bunch however is the first film, a squalid ode to a backstreet, greasy tapa bar Madrid not yet totally resigned to history, and all its flamboyant characters.