This omnibus of ironic revenge yarns begins with one of the best bangs in recent movie history. Simply titled “Pasternak,” the segment opens in high baroque cinematic style on an airplane — the unacknowledged clichéd first shot of many films — and morphs into something that feels like choice theater of the absurd. A group of Argentineans board a jet and during an unlikely flirtation chat uncover a crazy coincidental link, making the whole thing feel like a lost Eugène Ionesco play. Then the movie descends into pulp, and the truth turns refreshingly vulgar.
All six stories deal with humans turning away from their humanity (the credits equate each crew member with an animal, wild or barnyard) in settings almost equally hilarious and horrifying. Three, including “Pasternak,” feature over-the-top outcomes. The best are “El más fuerte,” a chance road-rage encounter on a deserted stretch of highway that goes all the way, and a wedding finale that shames high opera. The other three films include a demolition man out to speak truth to power in the only language he knows; a waitress forced to wait on a ruthless gangster; and the machinations of a rich man whose son has been involved in a hit-and-run accident. All have nice reversals, and most give us unexpected jolts reiterating a master theme: Never underestimate our propensity to slink onto the dark side of the street pursuing survival.
Wild Tales is fun and half-great but nowhere near profound. Revenge isn’t such a refreshingly new topic for films — Tarantino is more interesting on the subject. Like an updated Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wild Tales doesn’t feel any more inventive than 1980s American movies like Creepshow or the more horrifying Hong Kong film Three … Extremes. The popularity of this film, which was a huge hit at last year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, seems mostly tied to its foreignness. People who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Steven King movie are happy to catch the same wonderful cheap thrills in another tongue