Although he’s made several movies in English — including Perdita Durango, the unofficial sequel to Wild at Heart, starring Javier Bardem and Rosie Perez as a pair of Satan worshipers — Spanish wildman Álex de la Iglesia has never broken through to the U.S. mainstream. Perhaps his sense of humor is too dark and outrageous (Perdita Durango, for example, was only released here on DVD in a heavily edited version retitled Dance With the Devil). Or perhaps de la Iglesia’s brand of comedy hinges too heavily on Spain’s pop culture to work outside his home turf. A lot of the jokes are simply lost in translation.
Such is the case with My Big Night (Mi gran noche), a raucous, madcap comedy about the behind-the-scenes lunacy during an advance taping of a New Year’s Eve television special. This glitzy piñata of a movie, which works even better if you speak Spanish, kicks off with an elaborate dance number edited with the speed of something out of Mad Max: Fury Road, and only gets faster and loopier from there. De la Iglesia, who co-wrote the deceptively clever screenplay with his frequent collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría, takes a simple premise — the show must go on, no matter what — and hangs enough plot hooks and characters on it to fill a circus tent.
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Among them: A legendary, egomaniacal singer, Alphonso (played by Spanish crooner Raphael, poking good-natured fun at himself), who is worried about being upstaged by a young pop star, Adanne (Mario Casas); Jose (Pepon Nieto), an out-of-work actor who gets an emergency call to fill the seat of an extra who has been flattened by a careening camera crane; Paloma (Blanca Suarez), the beautiful sexpot who may be a walking bad-luck charm; and the show’s warring co-hosts (Hugo Silva and Carolina Band), a married couple who are more interested in their respective careers than each other. Meanwhile, outside the studio, a strike by TV union workers is threatening to escalate into a full-on riot.
De la Iglesia careens from one situation to the next, continuously adding elements to his comedic bonfire that build on each other, including an obsessed fan (Jaime Ordonez) who plans to assassinate Alphonso onstage, a missing vial of semen, a resentful son plotting revenge on his father and a woman who refuses to let go of the enormous crucifix she took from her late husband’s coffin (the Catholic Church remains one of de la Iglesia’s favorite targets).
My Big Night is peppered with big musical numbers, including a performance by Adanne of his hit single Fireman, a ridiculous confection of double entendres as subtle as a hammer to the head. That describes the way more sensitive viewers might feel about the movie: de la Iglesia doesn’t believe in allowing the audience to catch their breath, and he crams so much into each shot that there are often multiple jokes happening at the same time within the frame (a throwaway line of dialogue squeezes in a quick reference to Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, the sort of gag only a handful of people will appreciate).
Compared to his two previous pictures (The Last Circus and Witching and Bitching), which doled out some ferocious violence to go along with the laughs, My Big Night could be considered tame by de la Iglesia’s standards. But the movie has an exhilarating energy that is never exhausting, and the filmmaker’s trademark excesses, although toned down, are still at play. The meek should be wary; for everyone else, it’s party time.
Cast: Raphael, Mario Casas, Pepon Nieto, Blanca Suarez, Santiago Segura.
Director: Álex de la Iglesia.
Screenwriters: Álex de la Iglesia, Jorge Guerricaechevarría.
A Breaking Glass Pictures release. Running time: 100 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, brief violence, adult themes. Playing at: area theaters.