Mere minutes into its opening credits, the heated black comedy El crimen perfecto has its title reshuffled into El crimen ferpecto. And that Spanish spoonerism it translates into "the ferpect crime" tells you all you need to know about the film. Director Alex de la Iglesia operates in the tonal corridor between the screwball and the sadistic, echoing the eyebrow-raising larcenies of 1960s farces and the bloodier misadventures of the Tarantino era.
For the most part, it works. De la Iglesia stakes his bets on incongruity, applying hard-boiled dialogue and pulsating music to the story of Rafael Gonzalez (Guillermo Toledo), a sort of department store Macbeth. As the film begins, Rafael is several steps down the path to retail godhood. He's already a legend in the ladieswear department where he commands immense respect and gets to bag salesgirl after salesgirl and now he's about to score a promotion to floor manager that will vindicate his years of service. But the job instead goes to Rafael's bitter rival in menswear, initiating an instant reversal of our hero's fortunes. There's daily humiliation, violent arguing, a fatal accident and finally blackmail at the hands of Lourdes (Mónica Cervera), a fugly employee who's envied Rafael's assignations from afar and considers his decline a once-in-a-lifetime chance to wrap him around her little finger. Or her ring finger, perhaps.
The movie's depiction of gender relations won't win it any awards from NOW; filmmaker de la Iglesia sometimes seems confused as to whether we should enjoy Rafael's emasculation or pity him. Shrug off the shaky philosophy and instead savor the film's snarkier elements like a brief encounter with Lourdes' 8-year-old sister, a hostile little liar who likes to taunt her family that she has AIDS and/or has been impregnated by her teacher. In one scene, this character accomplishes everything the Bad News Bears remake could not.
Wicked details abound: For some reason, it struck me as immensely funny that Rafael's long-awaited day of reckoning took place during the store's African Furniture Week. The plot largely moves with the speedy efficiency of Hitchcock though Hitch never would have hobbled a climactic confrontation by having his protagonist wax poetic about societal standards of attractiveness, which is what de la Iglesia does in a belated and hypocritical effort to make his picture Mean Something. Oh, please. Uncle Alfred would have just pulled in tight on Grace Kelly's stockings and let us work out our feelings on our own.