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With: Salvador del Solar, Angie Cepeda, Monica Sanchez, Pilar Bardem, Gianfranco Brero, Gustavo Bueno, Carlos Kaniowsky
Written by: Enrique Moncloa, Giovanna Pollarolo, based on a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa
Directed by: Francisco J. Lombardi
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, nudity and language
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: -99
Date: 06/30/2000

Captain Pantoja and the Special Services (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

By Hooker by Crook

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Francisco J. Lombardi's romp Pantaleón y las visitadoras (aka Captain Pantoja and the Special Service) hits San Francisco movie screens after bouncing around the world and losing about 19 minutes in the process. But even at its current 118 minutes, the film stretches to the breaking point. Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is both a sex comedy and an examination of military thought, though it's about as serious about the military part as The Full Monty was about exploring working-class life in England. Actually, were it not set in Peru and performed in Spanish, the film would go hand-in-hand with The Full Monty and its many rip-offs, from Lucky Break to Greenfingers. Each elevates one ridiculous idea to even more ridiculous proportions, for the film's whole length.

Capt. Pantaleón Pantoja (Salvador del Solar) reports for duty for his next assignment in the Peruvian jungle, dutifully bringing his wife (Mónica Sánchez) along. He's surprised when he's ordered to act as a kind of military pimp, and organize a sailing "visitor" service that supplies prostitutes to army encampments. Of course, Pantaleón can't tell his wife about his new job, especially when they're trying to have a little Pantoja together.

Pantaleón (later called "Don Panta") was chosen for the job because of his clean-cut nature. He doesn't drink or smoke, seems indifferent to women, and follows orders to the letter. He, of all people, won't buckle under pressure. But no one could have anticipated Olga (Angie Cepeda), known as "La colombiana," a stunningly sensuous creature who is said to have caused two men to commit suicide over her. As she walk, her ample chest is thrust forward, and her luxurious, curly hair falls over her eyes. She speaks in a cooing whisper. Basically, this woman walks, talks and lives sex. Olga takes a shine to Pantaleón, mainly because he rebuffs her so often. Finally, she goads him into sex by teasing him that it's only good business sense to test the merchandise. From there, he's hooked. Who wouldn't be?

Meanwhile, Pantaleón continues to file meticulous reports, each time planning for a bigger, more smoothly run operation. Army officials balk at first, but even they can't argue with the program's positive results. Pantaleón even manages to control a nosy radio reporter (Aristóteles Picho) who threatens to drown the entire operation.

Rest assured, trouble comes in paradise, and that's when Captain Pantoja and the Special Service loses its light touch and wears out its welcome. Still, for a long time, the moive gets by on kooky, erotic charm. Del Solar provides Pantoja with a chirpy, clean-cut innocence and Cepeda adds a layer of potency to her otherwise stock character. Like this year's big hit Y tu mamá también, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service explores sex and sexuality. Though Mama frankly dealt with coming-of-age sex that resonates with painful truth, here the sex is of the fantasy kind. But there's nothing wrong with that.

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