Perdita Durango (Dance with the Devil)
When the man DEA Agent Woody Dumas (James Gandolfini) describes as ‘a Santero, a bank robber, a drug dealer and a scumbag,’ Romeo Dolorosa (Javier Bardem), lays eyes on a dangerously sexy woman (Rosie Perez) at the U.S./Mexican border, her tart putdowns to his come-ons delight him. When she suggests they kidnap a couple of blonde Gringos and eat them, he’s positively jubilant about sharing his life with “Perdita Durango.”
Laura's Review: B
If you thought Film Movement's streaming platform was only for foreign classics and film festival fare, think again, as they will begin streaming this original, uncut and unrated Spanish version of Álex de la Iglesia’s ("The Day of the Beast," HBO's "30 Coins") 1997 film on 4/23/21. This one features 10 minutes more sex and violence than previously available in U.S. versions, plus an ending that cements Romeo’s legendary status. If you offend easily, this isn’t the film for you and even if you don’t, be warned there is one very unfortunate scene that includes the obvious aftermath to the sexual abuse of a little girl. The film’s (originally known as “Dance with the Devil”) characters aren’t cartoonish, exactly, but this cult film, like ‘South Park,’ gleefully breaks all kinds of boundaries. "The Devil's Rejects'" Rob Zombie must love this movie.
So, although I flinched at the aforementioned scene, overall the film is so insanely over the top, Perez and Bardem so nakedly into their roles, I found more to admire than not. De la Iglesia’s signature themes – like Christianity, crime, clowns and the occult – can all be found here, along with the early work of an Oscar winner (Bardem), two Oscar nominees (Perez and Demian Bichir) and Emmy and Golden Globe winner Gandolfini (who, speaking of ‘South Park,’ almost gets the Kenny treatment here). The main problem with the film is that once Perdita’s kidnapping has been pulled off, the film loses a lot of its momentum and almost all of its humor.
After we witness the brutal trailer home murder-suicide of Perdita’s sister and two nieces at the hands of her brother-in-law, we meet up with her terrifying one potential suitor before Romeo steps in. With cat-eyed sunglasses, ruby red lips and long black talons, we why the man with the snake-head boots and Mayan-inspired hair is drawn to Durango and his Santeria ritual which sends him into convulsions as he hacks a man’s body apart, drinking blood from a cauldron before tearing the heart out, does the opposite of sending her packing. But Romeo comes with other baggage as well – he’s on the hook to loan shark Catalina (Demian Bichir) and has agreed to deliver a refrigerated truck full of fetuses to a secret lab in Las Vegas to be made into skin cream (because of course, all skin creams come from secret Las Vegas labs) for the ruthless Santos ("The Amityville Horror’s” priest, Don Stroud). Their personal crimes will become intertwined with Romeo’s with Dumas and his sidekick Agent Doyle (“Repo Man” director Alex Cox) already on their tail.
De la Iglesias cuts to the Mary Tyler Moore show to introduce his two very virginal victims-in-the-making, Duane (Harley Cross, "The Believers") and Estelle (Aimee Graham, "From Dusk Til Dawn"), his tone reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s sitcom scene in “Natural Born Killers.” Once they’ve been nabbed, Estelle shows some fight, knocking out Romeo’s Santeria sidekick Adolfo (Screamin' Jay Hawkins), but Perdita’s got a yen for some Gringo and the couple pair off to deflower their conquests.
The screenplay by the novel's Barry Gifford ('59 Degrees and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango') and Jorge Guerricaechevarría ("The Day of the Beast," HBO's "30 Coins") showcases a collection of crimes in what is essentially a road movie from the Mexican border to Las Vegas. There’s a lot going on, but the devil is in the details, like the way Dumas is continually flung into the air by vehicle impact yet keeps on ticking or Perdita and Romeo’s childlike enjoyment dancing along to Herb Alpert in their truck cab as Dwayne and Estelle cower in the back or the honeyed deadpan of Sheriff Ford (Harry Porter) or Romeo’s admiration for Burt Lancaster in “Vera Cruz” as ‘the perfect ending for a man.’ The production ranges from sun-blasted desert settings (an outdoor sex scene features a plane banking around a cactus!) to Christmas tree light color, the two converging for the Las Vegas showdown between Romeo and his cousin Reggie (Javier's older brother, Carlos Bardem), Perdita told not to follow but doing so anyway.
“Perdita Durango” is a hard core cult item and a wild ride, Perez and Bardem’s utterly fearless performances crowning them as one of the great cinematic criminal couples.
The Film Movement+ platform will begin streaming "Perdita Durango" on 4/23/21.