800 Bullets

2002, Movie, NR, 124 mins


Versatile Spanish writer-director Alex de la Iglesia's sentimental black comedy about family ties and lies simultaneously pays homage to the golden age of spaghetti Westerns and gleefully skewers the romantic image of cowboy righteousness that fuels American theme parks, country music, political campaigns and cigarette ads. Spoiled, restless 12-year-old hellion Carlos Torralba (Luis Castro) believes his paternal grandfather, legendary movie stuntman Julian Torralba (Sancho Gracia), is dead — that's what his widowed mother, hard-driving businesswoman Laura (Carmen Maura), and Grandma Rocío (Terele Pavez) have always told him. Laura refuses to so much as speak of Julian, whom she blames for her husband's death during a stagecoach stunt that the father-and-son team were executing together, but Rocio lets it slip that while she herself has no use for her drunken, whoring husband, he's still very much alive and living in Almeria. The wayward Carlos uses a trip to ski camp as an opportunity to run away to "Texas, Hollywood," an elaborate Western-town set constructed in the Almerian desert — a dead ringer for the American West, or at least the movie version thereof — during the spaghetti Western boom of the 1960s and '70s. Now it's a ramshackle relic where a motley crew of fringe dwellers has been staging classic Western scenes for an ever-diminishing audience of tourists for so long that it's hard to tell where the playacting ends and their so-called lives begin. This grotty ghost town is, of course, run by Julian, the upright (more or less) sheriff who regularly rousts leering outlaw Cheyenne (Angel de Andres Lopez). Just as Carlos is getting to know his grandfather — whose brushes with greatness include doubling for Clint Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and George C. Scott in PATTON — Laura blows in like a white tornado, determined to reclaim her son and resuscitate a foundering business deal involving a theme park that would fit nicely on the property now occupied by Texas, Hollywood. As rude reality comes crashing in, Julian and his dissolute posse must decide whether to fade quietly into a movie-history footnote or make one last stand in defense of their tatty, secondhand dreams. Iglesia, who hopscotches from genre to genre with startling alacrity, neatly juggles the film's disparate elements, then draws them together into an acid-dipped valentine to the sometimes seedy magic of movies. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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