Monday, November 28, 2011

Intacto Ends Unfortunately

Anyone remember the TV show Strange Luck that sprung up out of nowhere in the mid-nineties, bloomed for a season and then shriveled away? The basic premise involved a photographer who serendipitously happened to always end up in the right place at the right time to prevent tragedies and solve crimes. Though the series tried to capitalize on the popularity of another equally odd show, The X-Files, it ultimately failed because (in the words one of my friends) 'you get tired of having a miracle pop up every episode." Therein lies the problem with making luck a narrative driver: It's capricious by definition. A similar issue plagues the Spanish-language film Intacto, a spec-fic thriller about grifters with the ability to barter fortune.

Only one person survived when the airliner fell from the sky, a professional thief named Tomas. Lucky guy. But when authorities pulled his semi-conscious body from the wreckage, they found the take from his latest job strapped to his chest. Not so lucky. He ended up with an armed guard posted outside his hospital room and the promise of a lengthy jail term just as soon as he could move under his own power. Then along came Federico, an insurance agent bearing a payout from Tomas' travel policy -- and a secret offer. Federico believed Tomas possessed the ability to absorb others' luck, and if he has faith enough to follow, he'll prove it to him. Soon Tomas finds himself thrust into a bizarre world of underground gambling, where increasingly dangerous games of chance build fortunes and break lives. Pursued by a police officer who miraculously survived a devastating car wreck, he'll move up the circuit, on his way to a confrontation with a concentration camp survivor whose luck has never failed him.

Let me say it up front: Intacto is a failure. A fascinating failure, true, but a failure none the less. The film goes almost immediately wrong in how it introduces its speculative premise. First, we see a luck-absorbing character end a spectacular roulette run simply by entering the room where the game is being played. Okay, so some folks are like fortune's black holes, sucking in everyone else's kismet, right? Not exactly. That character loses his "gift" moments later when a luckier individual grasps him in a bear hug. Well, the draining of luck must require physical contact then. Sort of, but you can also barter someone's luck by taking a picture of him. You get the idea. The premise falls to pieces from a score of qualifications. As for the ending, it's as fickle as anything Strange Luck put on the screen. Watching the final few minutes, I found myself thinking, "There's no compelling reason this movie can't end in any way the screenwriter wants it to." Bloody gunfire, peaceful reconciliation, invasion from beyond the stars -- all of them would've left viewers with the same sense of satisfaction (or lack thereof). An unfortunate finish to an intriguing film.

(Picture: CC 2009 by Nina Matthews Photography; Hat Tip: io9)


Chestertonian Rambler said...

I forget what SF source said it, but someone said "readers will believe anything that you tell them, once--and it has to be at the beginning of the story." I think that, if the miracle show had started with some miracle each time (a car vanishing to appear a mile away, a man falling off a tower and surviving), and then gone through the realistic results of that miracle, people might have watched it. But if the miracle comes last, then you've removed most of the constraints that makes for good writing.

Loren Eaton said...

Actually, I was thinking of that quote as the movie rolled into its final act. The problem with Intacto -- or a problem, at least -- is that you think the director has already unspooled the fantastic premise at the very beginning. But then he starts fiddling with it, and by the end you don't really know what rules story is playing by. Frustrating, because it had the potential to be quite good.