Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Writer: Alex de la Iglesia, Jorge Guerricaechevarria
Producer: Enrique Cerezo
Stars: Hugo Silva, Mario Casas, Pepon Nieto, Carolina Bang, Terele Pavez, Jaime Ordonez, Santiago Segura, Gabriel Delgado, Macarena Gomez, Carmen Maura
A jewelry store heist goes even more haywire when an escape route takes the robbers through a village populated by witches.
Wasting no time at all, director/co-writer Alex de la Iglesia starts “Witching and Bitching” with scenery and a storyline that immediately gulps down heaping mouthfuls of his chaotic comedy concoction. Even before SpongeBob SquarePants is depicted brandishing an Uzi, Iglesia proudly crosses his arms with a subversive smirk as the opening title cards lump Margaret Thatcher and Frida Kahlo in with no small number of notorious witches from centuries past. This is a movie proud to be unashamedly irreverent, as long as it is in the service of snaggletoothed laughter spiked with mild suspense.
Remember the bank robbery scene in “Heat?” Instead of a downtown Los Angeles bank, imagine a pawnshop-like jewelry store in Madrid. Now instead of Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, and Al Pacino as the major players, picture a green Army man, a ten-year-old boy, and a silver-painted half-naked Jesus as the culprits toting the guns. See, it is Jose’s day for visitation with his son Sergio. It is also the day slated for a brazen daylight heist dressed as costumed characters, and Jose has no interest in cancelling his plans for either event.
Following a shotgun-blasting, car-flipping chase sequence that also involves a poorly timed cellphone call to Sergio’s mother, Jose and his accomplices set an escape route that sends them straight through a Spanish village known for harboring witches. Prophecy foretells that Sergio is the coven’s “Chosen One.” An unlikely romance blooms between Jose and sexy young witch Eva. Even Sergio’s panic-stricken mother and a pair of bumbling police investigators join the fray. Before long, everyone involved jumps out of the frying pan and into the cauldron as circumstances spin ever more wildly out of control.
“Witching and Bitching” hits all the right notes in its cackling cacophony of luscious imagery. Colorful lighting and fang-sharp cinematography paint from a palette that puts the movie’s best feet forward onscreen in striking physical form. From an ex-wife who cannot provide the police with a picture of her husband because she has scratched his face out of all their photographs, to the climactic reveal of a gigantically bulbous and thoroughly repulsive witch-creature, the freshest gags are always of the visual variety.
Enough comedy comes from the plentiful action that the film’s rhythm beats strong even when the script itself unintentionally fights to deaden the pulse. Jokes spun from the dialogue range in their datedness from a slightly stale Justin Bieber reference to a decades-too-late jab at “Driving Miss Daisy.” Timely sharpness in that department is hardly the movie’s strong suit.
The bigger issue with the dialogue, at least for non-Spanish speakers forced to read subtitles, is that the words are so rapid-fire that it is nearly impossible to enjoy the action when eyes are pointed at the lower edge of the screen so unavoidably often. Casually glance upward for just a split-second and you are liable to miss two or more complete sentences given how fast everyone’s lips continuously flap. Of course, so much of what is said is such excessive bitching that ignoring a decent portion of it could be a boon.
Then again, complaining that “Witching and Bitching” features too much of the latter half of its title might be like criticizing “Singin’ in the Rain” for having too many scenes of a wet Fred Astaire dancing in puddles. At least the name is perfectly upfront about what to expect from the content, even if the incessant nagging, arguing, backbiting, and bemoaning can at times make the movie sound like a psychiatrist’s office populated by five Spanish-speaking Woody Allens all talking at once.
At ten minutes short of two hours, “Witching and Bitching” wears long in the tooth during moments that fall flat. A side story love triangle moves too fast to ring true while a full B plot involving a police investigation is predominantly unnecessary. Even though the film has trouble deciding what to feature and what to toss, its storytelling sins can be forgiven in light of the fact that its humorous heart is in the right place for delivering snarky laughs and witch-related thrills. At the very least, it is always pretty to look at and never flat out dull, and that makes “Witching and Bitching” a fun and entertaining ride through elaborately wild territory.
NOTE: The Spanish title is “Las brujas de Zugarramurdi.”
Review Score: 70