Store Wars

Retail well told

When one goes to see a movie titled El Crimen Perfecto (literal translation: The Perfect Crime), it might seem unlikely that the title of this Spanish film has been altered for American audiences. But it has -- in Spain, the title is Crimen Ferpecto, which makes the crime a general term rather than one specific act, and deliberately misspells the second word. Granted, a foreign title intentionally misspelled would probably be too confusing for English speakers, but it encapsulates the movie's sense of humor. There's a scene late in the film where a character is renting crime movies, one of which is the American movie Perfect Crime. It rings up on the cash register as Crimen Ferpecto due to an unexpected computer glitch, much as many other things in the story suffer from similar unexpected glitches.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The movie begins in what could be one of the training rooms of the Matrix, all white with a rack of clothes in the middle. A salesman is trying to please a difficult customer, and failing. Very literally failing -- this turns out to be a school for salesmen, and the wanna-be up onstage has just flunked the final. A student asks the instructor if anyone has ever gotten a perfect score, and a reminiscence begins. Only one man . . .

The man is Rafael Gonzales (Intacto's Guillermo Toledo), a walking hard-on in a fancy suit who never doubts himself for one second. Rafael is a successful salesman in the women's clothing department of a large store called Yeyo's. Women want him, and men -- specifically his two sidekicks Alonso (Fernando Tejero) and Jaime (Javier Gutiérrez) -- want to be him. Rafael has everything in life that he wants, save the final promotion that will make him floor manager for the entire store. All that stands in his way is Don Antonio (Luis Varela), the badly toupeed men's-department salesman.

We're in the basement: Rafael (Guillermo Toledo) seeks solitude with the corpse of Don Antonio (Luis Varela) in El Crimen Perfecto.
We're in the basement: Rafael (Guillermo Toledo) seeks solitude with the corpse of Don Antonio (Luis Varela) in El Crimen Perfecto.

Of course, movies about people who always get what they want are no fun. So Don Antonio gets the job through a sheer last-minute technicality and demotes Rafael almost immediately. A fight ensues, and Rafael ends up accidentally killing Don Antonio in a changing room. If he confessed right away, chances are this master salesman would be able to talk his way out of things. But he doesn't, and that proves to be the one mistake that sets things in motion. Because there was a witness.

Her name is Lourdes (Mónica Cervera), and she's the only female Yeyo's employee that Rafael hasn't seduced. There's good reason for that: She has a receding chin, huge teeth, frizzy hair that seems never to have encountered conditioner, and a personality as unpleasant as her appearance. This isn't some hot actress playing ugly; Lourdes has an indisputably repellent face. She is borderline psychotic, and she's overjoyed to become Rafael's accomplice, knowing full well that he must do what she tells him, because this woman is nuts enough not to care about her own fate if Rafael should ever cross her.

Rafael now has what he wants -- with Don Antonio officially missing, he's the only candidate left for floor manager. But in true monkey's-paw fashion, the wish has been granted at an unbearable price. Lourdes, who now lives with Rafael and demands sex every day, also makes him fire every attractive female employee, replacing them with women even less attractive than she. Rafael begins hallucinating, and the ghost of Don Antonio shows up to suggest that maybe it's time for another murder.

At this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, geek god Bruce Campbell introduced a sneak-preview screening of El Crimen Perfecto. This mistakenly caused many fans to think that he's in the movie, but though he's not, it's exactly the sort of film he would be in. Campbell's principal shtick is that of an overexaggerated leading man who's not as cool as he thinks he is, and inevitably ends up physically abused and humiliated for laughs. Rafael is in the same mold, though there's also a touch of John Cleese's Basil Fawlty persona at work, in the insane frustrations the man must suffer to please a harridan of a wife, or wife-to-be. Like Fawlty Towers, the humor can at times be so painful that you'll feel bad for laughing.

Director/co-writer Alex de la Iglesia (800 Bullets) is clearly one to watch. Though the movie's tremendously funny and entertaining, it's also very nicely shot, and takes far more advantage of the department store setting when no one's around than, say, Mr. & Mrs. Smith did. Throw in several naked beauties for eye candy, and two absolutely fearless lead performances -- it can't have been easy for Cervera to be repeatedly portrayed as the most physically and emotionally hideous woman alive -- and you've got one of those rare foreign films that might actually appeal to the average U.S. moviegoer.

 
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