Don't Tempt Me (2001) / Comedy-Thriller
aka Sin Noticias de Dios
aka No News from God
aka Bendito Infierno

MPAA Rated: R for language, Violence, and some sexual content
Running Time: 112 min.

Cast: Victoria Abril, Penelope Cruz, Demian Bichir, Fanny Ardant, Gael Garcia Bernal, Javier Bardem
Director: Augustin Diaz Yanes
Screenplay: Augustin Diaz Yanes
Review published February 5, 2002

Fans of Pedro Almodovar might go into Don't Tempt Me (aka No News from God or Sin Noticias de Dios) thinking it's one of his films, or if they know it isn't, thinking it will be similar to his style, mostly due to the fact that Abril (Jimmy Hollywood, Tie Me Up Tie Me Down) and Cruz (Woman on Top, All About My Mother) are so often cast in his movies.  Hopefully, you won't come away disappointed just because it isn't.  Rather, it's more of a showcase for two very appealing actresses to strut their stuff and have a little fun, while writer-director Agustin Diaz Yanes (Nobody Will Speak of Us When We're Dead, Baton Rouge) delivers both the laughs and the action in this comic-thriller. 

The main plot is perhaps the most troublesome part, probably because most of the motivations are never really revealed.  Basically, Heaven is facing a sort of bankruptcy while Hell is about to be taken over by rebels, and the turning point for both rests on the soul of one Spanish boxer, Manny (Bichir, Dance with the Devil), who has a brain injury which may kill him should he take another nasty blow to the head.  Both factions send "angels" to try to sway his soul to either the side of Good or Bad, with Heaven's minion Abril taking over as Manny's wife, Lola, and demoness Cruz acting as a visiting long-lost cousin, Carmen.  Manny has been disowned by his mother for stealing some money from her, while he is also threatened from time to time by some local baddies for owing money to them too for selling some stolen jewelry.  With Manny right on the line, trying to do good but caught up in bad circumstances, the tug-of-war for his allegiance is on, and the two women will do anything to win.

Don't Tempt Me might sound like a wacky farce, but it isn't.  Most of the laughs are very subtle, and as fun as the actresses are to watch, this is not a knee-slapping, hilarious good time.  Many of the witty jabs come from the underlying commentary on politics, its corruptness, and how even in the afterlife, people's fates are decided by tit-for-tat favors and string-pulling rather than what's right or just.  The visions of Heaven and Hell are influenced greatly by movies, depicting Heaven as if it came from a classy old French film, filled with glamorous people and delicious entertainment.  Hell is more like a dark, exploitation film, set in a sweltering prison, full of opportunist lowlifes trying to abide by idiotic and unreasonable sets of rules.  

The contacts for both minions are Heaven's Fanny Ardant (Elizabeth, Sabrina) and Hell's Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros), who are perfectly cast according to their type, and makes the film fun whenever they are onscreen together.  The same can also be said for Abril and Cruz, of course, and although Cruz steals many of the laughs because of the nature of her role as the bad guy, Abril does get her chance in the spotlight with a couple of lavish musical numbers while performing in a Parisian-like club in Heaven. 

Unfortunately, the least appealing aspect of the film comes from the main plot itself, mostly because Manny is rather unsympathetic, and also Heaven and Hell seem so corrupt, that we don't really care who will win or lose in the end.  Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the plot comes from the strange and ever-changing sets of rules, as it's never quite clear how or why Manny's soul matters, or even how the structure of things seems to work in terms of Manny "scoring points" on the side of Good or Evil with every action.  I suppose the film isn't really about the structure of the afterlife, and doesn't want to get bogged down in over-explanation, but from what we do see, it all makes little logical sense.

However, this is all a minor quibble, since the real reason for the film, ultimately, is to entertain, and to that end, Don't Tempt Me is a success.  Well, I should say mostly a success, because the tone of the film shifts so much from comedy to seriousness in a way that some viewers won't like the darker edges, showcasing an attempted rape and lots of beatings (and murderous gunplay) to be truly enthralled in what is otherwise a light and fluffy affair.

Don't Tempt Me is primarily recommended for the performances of its stars, and if you are a huge fan of any of the main performers, you will probably come away loving it.  The premise is also interesting, and the vision of the afterlife makes for a fascinating and somewhat amusing take.  Like Tarantino did for Hollywood films, Yanes has created a Pulp Fiction for the female art-house crowd -- funny, violent, and completely irreverent.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo