Federico Cueva's directorial debut is an uneven yet amusing action-comedy with great stunts.
Federico Cueva has been working in stunts and special effects in his native Argentina and Spanish cinema for more than 20 years. His work with Santiago Segura in several of the Torrente films, and with Alex de la Iglesia in The Bar and My Big Night, have gained Cueva a reputation in the world of over-the-top, machismo action-comedies.
So it is only fiitting that his first venture into feature film directing would be with a film of a similar tone. You Only Live Once is an uneven yet amusing action-comedy, with great stunts and a few witty lines, but lacks a strong enough punch to make it stand out.
Leo (Peter Lanzini), a small-time con man, had a scam of filming important men with prostitutes and them bribing them. But one day, one of these men is killed in front of him, and Leo finds himself running for his life from both the police, French diplomat Duges (Gerard Depardieu), and his henchmen López (Santiago Segura) and Harken (Hugo Silva). Leo ends up going into hiding in the Hassidic Jewish community of Buenos Aires, and soon finds himself torn between his crush on a pretty girl and keeping himself alive.
Certainly, this is a well-directed film, in that the performances are on point, the editing is slick, the action is well done (if a bit over-the top, but such is the style), and it keeps to a reasonable running time of 90 minutes. But even with that, it does drag at points.
Lanzini is working very hard at playing the fish-out-of-water angle, and trying to sell the laughs. He makes a point of his Catholicism early in the, apologizing to a photo of the Pope that hangs in his apartment, as he turns it to the wall before viewing the sex show next door. This is supposed to make his journey through the world of Hassidic Judaism funnier, though the two religions are not as disparate as many would believe.
Luckily, at least the story manages to poke fun at both religions in a light-hearted but fun way, though the jokes are never gut-busting. It becomes more about those that Leo meets, such as a fellow student who knows Leo has a secret, but eventually finds courage through violence and letting his formal self go; and the Rabbi who seems rather flumoxed at Leo's antics but learns to go with the flow. Some scenes of these antics elicit some chuckles, but are not interesting or original enough to provoke great laughter.
As stated, Lanzini gives his performance a lot of drive, which helps to centre the otherwise messy and inconsistent story. The supporting actors from Spain -- Segura in a more subdued performance of a heavy/hit man; Silva as a rather insane but amusing hit man; and Carlos Areces in a brief role as a nerd who has something everyone wants -- bring in some much-needed moments of good comedy, taking the rather lacklustre script into some interesting territory. I'd rather screenwriter Sergio Esquenazi hadn't included any women characters at all, given the two (!) that are in the story are badly written and used merely for body parts, as it were.
A pretty awesome car chase near the end, and SIlva's exagerrated performance, save the conclusion; but there isn't enough of interesting substance through a script that needed a few more passes to tighten the pace. Still, Cueva's got directing skill; I hope next time he uses it (and these actors) on better material.