Comedy is a genre that can have problems in travelling, and Capitão Falcão is even less likely to travel, such are the specificities that link it to its home country of Portugal. This retro-flavoured crime-fighting super-hero spoof taking after the camp 1960s TV Batman aims at the fascist regime that ran the country for nearly 50 years, until 1974; therefore, João Leitão's feature debut will probably only truly make sense for those who are aware of the country's 20th century history.
But if your penchant for humour arcs towards the slow-burn, nonsensical post-Monty Python satire, then Capitão Falcão may just be up your alley, even though it fails to hang together coherently as a feature. That is mostly due, in part, to its original design as a half-hour TV comedy: the adventures of the crime-fighting regime defender Falcão (Gonçalo Waddington) and his Macao-born sidekick Puto Perdiz (stuntman David Chan Cordeiro) had a "proof of concept" in a 2012 pilot short that, surprisingly, was not picked up by any of the local stations.
Undeterred, director and co-writer Leitão, Mr. Waddington and the small crew pushed forward with the concept as a theatrical feature, an origin story set in the 1960s that explains how the arch-conservative Falcão becomes the hero of the fatherland and the favourite of regime head António de Oliveira Salazar (a spot-on José Pinto). But the script's episodic nature, resembling nothing so much as a string of stand-alone sketches sequenced together, and the clumsy, uninspired handling that seems to consist mainly of close-ups and wide shots (the action scenes are so awkward it's a wonder they even work), underlined by the unwieldy, nearly two-hour running time that the film has some difficulty supporting, suggest that Capitão Falcão would work better as a small-screen offering.
What makes the film pass muster is the genial nature of the satire, pushing to absurd excess the numbing propaganda of the Salazar regime: Portugal as a muzzled, subservient country, its stifling greyness challenged by the multi-coloured Captains of April, a group of rebel military officers yearning to bring the country into line with the rest of the world. The film often seems to be exaggerating affectionately the old-fashioned, rigid tropes of serial heroics, but doesn't always make clear what is homage and what is clumsiness; still, Mr. Waddington is brilliantly spot-on as the sharp military officer turned blindly loyal and casually offensive hero (not far from Jean Dujardin's take on OSS 117, though less meta-aware), ably supported by Miguel Guilherme as general Gaivota, Falcão's mentor whose apparent death early on triggers part of the plot.
The sarcastic, very sly nature of Capitão Falcão's wit is enough to show it's a character that has room to grow - but a tighter, less sprawling film might be in order.
Cast Gonçalo Waddington, Miguel Guilherme, José Pinto, Rui Mendes, David Chan Cordeiro, Matamba Joaquim
Director João Leitão; screenwriters Mr. Leitão and Nuria Leon Bernardo; cinematographer and editor Mário Melo Costa (colour, widescreen); composer Pedro Marques; production designer Nuno Tomaz; costumes Isabel Quadros; production company Individeos
Screened April 8th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon (distributor press screening)