Broodingly ominous and machine-waxed to a high sheen, the new Spanish movie Intacto launches with a series of enigmatic set pieces: In a rarefied desert casino, a big winner is “deactivated” by a single touch from an establishment staffer (Eusebio Poncela); a mega Russian roulette game (five bullets, one empty chamber) is played and won by the joint’s mysterious owner (Max von Sydow), whose status as a Holocaust survivor apparently indicates that he will survive any calamity. When Federico, the employee with the jinx effect, decides to quit, he is beaten and tossed into the desert. Seven years later, we find Federico monitoring an idiot running across a busy highway at night wearing a blindfold—he gets creamed, and Federico walks. Then, Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a young thief who is the sole survivor of a plane crash, finds Federico, now an insurance agent, at his bedside, offering the inordinately lucky schmuck a chance to escape the law and get rich.
What in the wide, wide world of offtrack betting is going on here? First-time director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has an original vision of an extreme underground of lunatic gamblers and their utterly bizarre rites—in one sequence, big-stake wagerers sit in a dark room with treacle in their hair as a giant firefly-mantis buzzes in the darkness, deciding whose head to land on. In another, contestants are compelled to run full-bore and blindfolded through a thick forest; whoever doesn’t break their face on a tree wins.
There are a handful of salient, evocative directions to go with this wagonload of obsessive baggage; the notion of survivorship translating to a creed of superhuman luck (one gamester is a famous matador), upon which fortunes can be gambled, is certifiably creepy and even potentially satirical of generalizedinsecurity. But Fresnadillo has decided to abandon Hoyle and make the metaphysical literal: Luck is actually transferable like a virus, not only by touch but by Polaroid. Down-and-out losers—”captives”—can be paid to have their luck leeched from them with a hug and a kiss. Photographs that literally carry their subjects’ ration of luck are staked, hoarded, and used as currency.
By the time Tomás and Federico arrive for a final showdown with von Sydow’s linen-suited demigod, what seemed to be the characters’ deranged paradigms are revealed to be the filmmaker’s own, and it’s a hard swallow. Certainly a little Mamet hard-wiring would’ve kept this whopper grounded, although the film’s absurd mythos allows for the occasional poetic irony. (A scarred female cop is haunted by the idea that she sucked up her family’s kismet in the last moments before a car crash, and imagines she could have saved them by simply telling her husband, “I don’t love you anymore,” and making him pull over.) Intacto‘s focus on arcane bylaws allows for little emotional or moral impact; indeed, using a Holocaust vet as an epitome of flawless fortune is as brainless as it is irresponsible. It’s a shame that, somewhere in his mystagogical handstanding, Fresnadillo forgot the real world.
Reality suffers a cotton-puff rubdown in Evelyn, Bruce Beresford’s blarney-brewed saga recounting the 1953 Irish child welfare case in which Desmond Doyle (producer Pierce Brosnan) attempts to retrieve his three children from state custody despite the fact that his wayward wife is not around to sign them out. It’s hardly clear why the case is “hopeless” or why its legal precedent is dramatically important, but Beresford and his team whip up the puddin’ into teary triumphs anyway, with lawyers Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, and Alan Bates fuming with A Few Good Men epiphanies and the old evil judges eyeballing like condors. Every other line is a coy Oirishism, and Brosnan, despite being Irish, isn’t any more convincing than twinkly-eyed barmaid Julianna Margulies.