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GOLDEN BALLS [Huevos de Oro] (1993).

Spanish director Bigas Luna has been cranking out oddball features since the late-'70s, beginning with BILBAO (the heartwarming tale of a hooker and her obsessed stalker) and CANICHE (a sadistic story of brother/sister kinkiness, with a little dog-eating tossed in for good measure), but didn't attract U.S. viewers' attention until the '80s, when a couple of his movies were actually distributed in the States (albeit primarily straight-to-video), such as the clever horror pic ANGUISH. And who else but Luna would have the cock-eyed genius to hire Dennis Hopper to play an evangelist in his religious thriller REBORN?... Lunas' follow-up to his 1992 arthouse hit JAMON JAMON tackles a similar mix of sexuality and social satire, with Javier Bardem starring as burly womanizer Benito Gonzalez. But even though this unlikable lout is only a two-bit construction peon, he has his eyes set on larger goals. Specifically, the construction of a 40-story skyscraper to be named The Gonzalez Tower. Benito's masculinity is impugned when his girl has a one-nighter with his best friend, and after that, anything goes in his quest to build the ultimate phallic symbol. First, he takes up with a sexy young model named Claudia (LA BELLE EPOQUE's Maribel Verdu) who doubles as his secretary. And all the while, ambitious Gonzalez connives and lies to get his project green-lit -- even having Claudia screw a tightwad banker for the seed money. When that plan fails, Benito simply marries the banker's demure daughter, Maria de Medieros (HENRY AND JUNE). Yep, this guy's a scumbag. He screws old girlfriends, acts like a shit to every woman he stumbles across and tosses aside any possibility for happiness in his foolhardy ambition to erect a high-rise tribute to his misspent sexuality. More importantly, the self-absorbed dope learns nothing as he climbs the financial food chain... This might sound like standard soap opera, but the film's earthy, hothouse veneer will keep most viewers glued to the screen. And though Luna wants to convince us that this tale is as much about power as sex (notice how Benito and Claudia can't stop talking about their future wealth, even while the guy's going down on her), his subtext is clouded by the fact the performers are almost as steamy as the climate. The women are in a continual state of undress, the men are shirtless, and everybody's in heat -- taking respites from the plot to screw in alleyways, on the beach, or wherever they can find a ledge wide enough to rest their ass. It's a tribute to Bardem that he's unafraid to play such a vain and reprehensible asswipe. In fact, he's so unlikable that late in the film, when Benito is involved in an auto accident (which leaves his building plans as limp as his dick), you wish he'd done a full-scale Jayne Mansfield instead. On the other hand, the women are gorgeous window-dressing, but little else. Amidst the supporting cast, look for a young, pre-USUAL SUSPECTS Benicio Del Toro during Benito's hellish sojourn into the dregs of Miami. Alas, not all of the movie is as appealing as the leads and their sexcapades. On the purely structural level, the movie is a mess, with Luna flipping so chaotically from one year to the next that we barely realize the story stretches over a full decade. And although the kitschy furniture and vibrant color schemes are certainly extravagant, they too often smack of second-rate Almodovar. Worst of all, throughout this 'Rise and Fall of an Asshole', you suspect that Luna had more fun setting him up than tearing him down, and after 90 minutes of wonderfully gratuitous sex and manipulation, the ending falls apart in a fizzle of empty sympathies. Still, with its razored edge and seductive style, GOLDEN BALLS exposes the underbelly of Spanish machismo and misogyny, while taking a funhouse mirror to Latin Lover-style clichés.

© 1995 by Steven Puchalski.