Don't Tempt Me (February 15/04)
For those who believe that there are no original ideas left, Don't Tempt Me sure does a fine job of contradicting that theory.
The film follows agents of Hell and Heaven - played by Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril, respectively - as they attempt to secure the soul of a somewhat ordinary boxer (his presence on either side is vitally important). Lola (Abril) is posing as said boxer's girlfriend, while Carmen (Cruz) has assumed the role of his long-lost cousin. Both agents occasionally report to their bosses, who are quite impatient for this issue to be resolved. In Heaven, Marina (Fanny Ardant) offers advice to Lola - while Carmen's superior, Davenport (Gael García Bernal), is far more insistent (he'll lose his job if the boxer goes upwards).
It's undoubtedly a silly premise, but writer/director Agustin Diaz Yanes imbues the film with enough style and humor to keep things interesting. Yanes' tongue is clearly firmly in cheek here, as he clearly doesn't take any of this stuff seriously (Dogma this ain't). His vision of Hell resembles something out of a Terry Gilliam nightmare; the offices are dirty and grimy, while the interned souls are trapped in a particularly nasty looking prison. Heaven, on the other hand, resembles a '50s French nightclub (all the sequences set there are even shot in black and white) - complete with a sultry vocalist and accompanying band. It's unique visual choices like those that makes Don't Tempt Me far more engaging than the material warrants, because really - when you get right down to it - this is essentially a silly comedy taken to biblical proportions.
The performances go a long way toward keeping things afloat, with Cruz and Abril effectively embodying naughty and nice. Cruz, in particular, does a nice job of portraying a butch, no-nonsense angel of Satan. Her love/hate chemistry with Abril - who is expectedly engaging as Lola - is the most intriguing aspect of the film, which is certainly a testament to the talent of these two actresses. But the movie never quite becomes anything more than an entertaining time-waster, primarily because there's not much more to the story than the initial premise. Yanes throws in a lot of visual tricks (the film kicks off with an impressive SteadiCam tracking shot) presumably to distract from the lack of plot, but there's only so much he can do to disguise the relative thinness of this tale.