Through the mainstream media, I had heard a number of negative critiques about the Spanish film "As Luck Would Have It." I wavered back and forth before finally deciding to watch the film for this reason. I sat down, therefore, with relatively low expectations and was absolutely and pleasantly surprised. Director Álex de la Iglesia has made some fascinating and over-the-top spectacles in the past. His wicked sense of humor and merciless darkness make a unusually delightful combination. Having worked most of my life in retail, I'm still in love with his black comedy "El Crimen Perfecto" from 2004. Fresh from the garish, unpredictable, and pretty spectacular "The Last Circus," "As Luck Would Have It" is a decidedly calmer affair. It's not exactly a film that I would have expected from the director, but maybe that's why it appealed to me so much. Part satire, part domestic drama, the movie plays like a riff on Billy Wilder's classic "Ace in the Hole." Gallows humor and abject cynicism, in this case, are tempered with heartfelt emotion and even a bit of melodrama. I might have preferred a little more bite from its social commentary, but I was still thoroughly captivated by the story. In short, I really kind of loved this movie.
I knew nothing about "As Luck Would Have It" prior to watching it. Part of its pleasure is to see how exactly it unravels. Therefore, I will be purposefully vague in my descriptions. A pleasantly restrained Jose Mota (not typically known for restraint) plays an unemployed advertising professional looking for a fresh start. He and his wife (Salma Hayek) are at the brink of financial ruin, but Mota has not been entirely forthcoming with the dire news. After a day of job interviews, he visits a locale from their past in which a Roman ruin has been recently unearthed. Through a series of mishaps, something unexpected happens that puts Mota at the center of a media circus. Everyone seems to have a stake in what is occurring or wants a stake in it! As Mota comes to grips with his situation, he becomes complicit in his own exploitation. As avarice, greed, and ambition take over the proceedings, Mota also wants to cash in for the highest dollar value.
There is nothing new in the themes examined in "As Luck Would Have It." If anything, the film's screenplay lets it targets off too easily. The biggest commentary is reserved for the tabloid news cycle that craves product placement and cashes in on tragedy. The film starts with a hard edge, but gives way to a certain sentimentality. I still went with this transition, however, because I thought it was well developed. But the very real situation at the center of the picture is absolutely fascinating. Mota is quite good, very convincing in a difficult role. Although the picture can be frantic, he is literally the calm center. Hayek is appealing, even if I didn't love her final scenes. One significant complaint would be that Mota's children are not particularly believable or developed. They remain in the middle ground where the picture is still deciding whether to be a comedy or a drama. I'd still rate the experience at 4 1/2 stars for my taste, but I'll round up since I liked the movie so much more than I had anticipated. KGHarris, 6/13.