directed by Marcel Pi�o with Eduardo Noriega, Leonardo Sbaraglia, and Pablo Echarri opens Dec. 21 at Broadway Market
SOMETIMES A CIGAR isn't just a cigar in film noir. In the 1946 classic Gilda, when George Macready threatens to poke Glenn Ford with a lethal walking stick (which he calls his "little friend"), you have to realize that femme fatale Rita Hayworth is just a beard for what lies beneath all the hostility. Marcel Pi�o's carnal Spanish-language noir Burnt Money ("based on a true story"?!) makes that undercurrent explicit by letting it all hang out. Almost.
Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel (Eduardo Noriega) are hard-boiled gunmen known as much for their symbiotic relationship as for their ruthlessness; other professionals call them "the twins," and Pi�o shows them naked in bed, locked in an embryonic embrace. A rift is forming, though. Angel, listening to voices in his head, doesn't want to be touched anymore, believing that he and his beloved can escape to America if he keeps his sperm sacred (don't ask—I don't know). When a heist goes awry, they're forced to hole up in a simmering mid-'60s Uruguay with some other ill-tempered thugs, forbidden to leave the flat until further notice. Boiling with pent-up rage and lust, Nene's stuck yearning for his abstinent lover and watching straight hood Cuervo (a pistol-hot Pablo Echarri) samba half-nude in the living room. Someone is bound to either get nailed or, well, nailed.
The palpable erotic tension between sex and violence that Pi�o bottles is Money's main appeal. Sbaraglia is a prowling stick of dynamite, and the passionate heat between him and the sullen beauty Noriega is something to see. (We haven't felt this kind of anticipation since Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg played will-they-or-won't-they? in Breathless.) Even when Nene pulls a bullet out of Angel's arm, each man desperately cradling the other's head, it plays like a frenzied coupling.
Two hours, though, is a long time to sustain what's basically a mood piece, especially one approaching an inevitable conclusion. And, curiously, the only real action here is heterosexual: Cuervo has a sexy rut with naughty little girlfriend Vivi (firecracker Dolores Fonzi) while Nene peeps, and Nene himself romps with a melancholy whore (Leticia Br餩ce). There are only two ways this kind of story can end—in love or death, and anyone familiar with this genre knows too well which way it will swing, so to speak. After 125 minutes of sinuous, brooding tease, you may feel disappointed that you weren't treated to a different kind of climax.