Spain has been an interesting location to see action titles emerge from in the last decade or so. Like most countries it’s not typically known for the kinds of productions that get talked about on platforms like this one, so when something like Kike Narcea’s latest Iberian coming-out party, I’ll Crush Y’all! makes an entrance, it’s totally reasonable if heads turn in response.
Actor Mario Mayo is the go-to this time around, billed as Spain’s answer to Jason Statham although his size, look and build give off more Vince Vaughn a la Brawl In Cell Block 99 than anything. He plays Gabriel – formerly of the nickname “Nuthead” (or Tarado), an ex-convict and former boxer who, after spending a lengthy period keeping his head down and his hands clean, has finally reached the end of his probationary period and can matriculate back into society as a free man. He lives a mostly quiet life as an employed mechanic while living with and caring for his ailing 90-year old father Tino (Antonio Mayans) and Pepe, their loyal German shepherd in their mountainside farm, where the last thing Gabriel expects is to see any amount of trouble knocking on his front door.
As the plot tells it, his father suddenly passes away and it isn’t long before Gabriel’s mourning is cut short when shady characters start showing up at his door in the middle of the night. One day, a seemingly harmless visit from his brother Tinin (Diego Paris) and his girlfriend Estefa (Fabia Castro) turns into a day of chaos when the encroaching arrival of the obsessed Sandra (Ana Marquez), as well as a machete-wielding would-be simp/assassin remove Gabriel far from the peace he’d been looking for, and back into the anarchy of his former self. It soon becomes clear Tintin’s goings-on is the least of his worries, leaving Gabriel to fend for his life while solving the even greater mystery of the calamity now riddling his home with bullets, blood and backyard graves.
A mean and moody synth score helps set the tone during the opening credits to start things off, casting Mayo centerstage for an admirable approach to the rough-around-the-edges Gabriel and his daily workout regimen which also includes the heavy lifting he does at the garage. Beyond him, the film has a lot of characters to keep up with, many of whom are named in passing as we try to figure out which relationships and connections are primary to pay mind to as the story unfolds. It’s a little hard to keep up with, so you’re forgiven if your brain plays catch-up between scenes.
The good news is that the roster gets pretty colorful, particularly with an interesting twist between Tinin and Estefa, as well as the voracious Sandra whose unhinged spells often know no ends. That includes her wanton feelings for Gabriel apart from her loyalty to a Madrid gang led by her brother, Nica (Ramon Goyanes) who is also in search of the missing bag of cash intended for Estefa and Tinin. Again though, there’s a greater stake at hand and it deals with Tino’s past which the film breifly explores earlier on in the film in a scene of levity between him and Gabriel, during which Tino conveniently reminds him of the importance and divine meaning of his ability to “kick asses”.
By all means, the role of Monica is the most standout character of the line-up, if only for the fact that she doesn’t show up until the most cruicial point in the movie. Her relationship with Gabriel is only ever explained in dialogue between our protagonist and with other adjacent characters, so we never really get the full breadth of why their past is, well, “past”. Her re-entry, however, is quite amusing and defenitely brings a surge of energy that keeps the pace afloat as the movie moves on.
Therein lies the action element, and as hyped as she was, Monica is a total surgeon with a slingshot. Gabriel is pound-for-pound as brutal and threat as he shows, and again, I harken back to my S. Craig Zahler reference for comparison, though the levels of violence and gore aren’t the same. The impact and brute force are all still very much there, and with action scenes that do fairly enough to meet the demand. The editing and cinematography can be hit-or-miss on occasion, but the fights are still fun to watch, and the extra mile they go to by flickering close-ups of fists pummeling faces to gauge a certain level of violent allure is admirable in their efforts.
Gore and splatter are on the menu as well for a few scenes with a touch of hilarity, including one moment where the aforementioned machete assassin gets a little too clumsy. There were some shots missing key CG effects in the work-in-progress copy that I screened for this review which means the film is still in post-production, and so I reckon those gaps will be filled in well in due time.
At any rate, you can chalk it up to pure gumption for a film like I’ll Crush Y’all. Not everyday do we hear about an action film production in Spain much less somewhere along the Iberian peninsula, and so with Narcea looking to pick up the mantle, I’m willing to venture some ideas about his hopeful return to the helm after this.
Screened for Fantastic Fest.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.