Heroic Losers. M, 116 minutes. Three stars
As you might expect, this amiable comedy from Argentina involves a group of blokes who have had enough of hard times. Their scheme to lift themselves out of their poverty could be a goer, but they are tricked out of the finances they've saved to get started.
Wresting their money back from corrupt officials while delivering payback to those who keep them downtrodden is, as always, an irresistible formula.
There is lots to like here - the small-town characters to start with. Villa Alsina, situated on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, is a place that seems to be losing its talented young people to the cities. Change has passed it by.
Heroic Losers is set in the latter half of 2001, as a severe financial crisis took hold in Argentina's currency, sovereign debt and banking systems, and there was a freeze on funds.
Ricardo Darin appears in the lead role as Fermin Pelassi. He is such an engaging presence and seems to have inhabited every other Argentinian film that has travelled abroad. He was memorable in Truman, The Secret in Their Eyes, and Nine Queens.
Fermin is salt-of-the-earth, and a natural leader. Once a soccer star, his glory days are immortalised in a cheesy statue on a town street. He is a guy who is universally liked, perhaps to a fault.
He and his wife Lidia (Veronica Llinas) think they have hit on a way out of their impoverished lives: reinvigorating an empty agricultural facility, La Metodica, by turning it into a town cooperative.
To get this under way, Fermin, Lidia and their friend Antonio Fontana (Luis Brandoni) do the rounds of townsfolk to see who is interested in contributing funds. They raise a few thousand pesos and there from founding members who are a lovable bunch of eccentrics. Among them are the fisherman who dynamites the waterways to obtain his catch, the fervent anarchist who quotes Michael Bakunin, and the goofy young brothers Gomez who need their mobiles to conduct all and every conversation.
Fermin's visit to the one person who can make a difference proves lucrative. Successful businesswoman Carmen Largio (Rita Cortese) puts up 100,000 pesos, a third of the money required to buy dilapidated Metodica.
Her son, Hernan (Marco Antonio Caponi), is out of town. As a single mother she is concerned that he has the right influences on his development into a responsible adult. Fermin, nice guy that he is, agrees to act as role model if he can, but is soon involved in plotting a robbery.
Fermin's own son, Rodrigo (Chino Darin), is studying in the city. He returns home after a sudden family tragedy, and gets caught up in events.
Chino is Ricardo Darin's son in real life, and this is the first occasion that they have appeared on screen together.
One of the film's subtexts is the parent-child relationship. There are some amusing observations on parent-child dynamics when the two young men are back in town.
But the target here is political and economic systems that fail their people, and the officials who aren't open with clients and profit from their opacity.
Director Sebastian Borensztein's sense of comic timing is good, with comedy that derives mostly from the ensemble cast and the characters they inhabit. At nearly two hours' running time, Heroic Losers does run out of puff as the action to retrieve stolen funds takes over.
The plot hatched to retrieve the stolen funds does not go according to plan. It is not executed nearly as smoothly as the heist in the William Wyler film from 1966 with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, How to Steal a Million, that is directly referenced here.
That's the point of course, but Heroic Losers' heist itself isn't as entertaining as it wants to be.
Whenever the little guy gives the corporate bully their comeuppance there will be a broad audience. The Castle in Australia, a major local hit, was one such movie, and there have been many like it.
Heroic Losers is doing great business in its home market. Director Borensztein co-wrote the screenplay with author Eduardo Sacheri on whose popular novel the film is based.
Its heart is in the right place, its colourful characters simpatico, but the comedy of errors is not its strong point.