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El Crimen Perfecto

If vanity were a crime, Guillermo Toledo, the preening anti-hero of Alex de la Iglesia's scorching black comedy El Crimen Perfecto, would be an exceedingly well-groomed Charles Manson. Literally born in a mall department store, Toledo represents all the values of his adopted space: Style and refinement, an irresistibly seductive sales pitch, and an almost pathological need to maintain a hermetic sort of perfection. As the film opens, the mall seems as welcoming a utopian bubble as it does to the survivors in Dawn Of The Dead, but de la Iglesia stands ready with a pin, and before long, Toledo suffers for his superficiality. An aggressive farce powered by an exceedingly nasty worldview, the film tackles the twin evils of vanity and vulgarity with equal aplomb, and leaves no parties standing in the wake of its broad satirical swath.

Introduced as the world's greatest salesman, Toledo works the ladies' section of a Madrid department store like a lion in the savanna, at one point likening a browsing customer to a gazelle in the underbrush. The women under his supervision are willing fantasy objects who are always up for a dressing-room quickie or an after-hours session where they cavort in a consumerist paradise. With his sycophantic minions by his side, Toledo wages a sales war against his criminally tacky menswear counterpart (Luis Varela) over who will get the coveted position of floor manager. When Toledo loses on a technicality, the two have a heated exchange that ends with Toledo accidentally murdering his rival. His problems deepen when the sole witness to the crime turns out to be Mónica Cervera, the only ugly duckling on his sales team, a grotesque cretin who enslaves him in a sexual blackmail scheme.

As it progresses from black comedy to something approaching surreal horror, El Crimen Perfecto swells into a nightmare reminiscent of Griffin Dunne's journey through Soho hell in After Hours. All of Toledo's masculine desires are thrown right back in his face, and the sick inadequacies of the outside world can no longer be avoided. This leads to inspired scenes like a dinner with Cervera's awful family, during which her psychotic 8-year-old sister claims that she's pregnant by a gym teacher who raped her, and she's keeping the baby. De la Iglesia might have been tempted to root for an underdog like Cervera, who looks like she's gotten no breaks in life, but he's an equal-opportunity offender, put off as much by her crassness and banality as he is by Toledo's hollow materialism. His is a comedy of the damned.

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