|Dance with the Devil (Unrated Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 28 December 1999|
Rosie Perez plays Perdita Durango, a woman so tough she dreams of a jaguar entering her bed. To cross the border from Texas to Mexico, she hooks up with handsome, equally tough Romeo (Javier Bardem). Romeo is instantly smitten, even though at present he already has two major endeavors in his life. He’s supposed to transport a truckload of human fetuses for mob boss Santos (Don Stroud) and he’s a priest in a cult that practices human sacrifice. Perdita thinks Romeo is a kick and helps him select two potential victims, out-of-their-depth American teens Duane (Harley Cross) and Estella (Aimee Graham). Eventually, as often happens in these tales, everybody on both sides of the border and the law winds up chasing after Perdita and Romeo.
Watching ‘Dance With the Devil’ is a bit like seeing ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ ‘El Mariachi,’ ‘GoodFellas’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ thrown into a high-speed blender, with only the budget set on low. The movie is so wild that we truly can’t predict where it’s going next, and the filmmakers have the courage of their gonzo convictions. Perdita and Romeo wind up as weirdly dimensional figures, with Perez oddly enough coming off more sexy and smart as this hellcat than she has in a number of more conventional roles. Bardem revels in the calm, seductive lunacy of Romeo. Screaming Jay Hawkins not only contributes a climactic song (“I’m Lonely,” which turns up in Chapter 19 with his trademark dramatic wail) but plays an enigmatic villain who may or may not belong to the ranks of the walking dead.
The video transfer on ‘Dance’ is very handsome, with vivid colors showing up sharply in both day and night scenes. Chapter 5 has a yellowish hue, but this can be attributed to onscreen light sources. Sound has its high and low points. A wartime firefight makes fine use of the surround system, with gunfire ricocheting through the rears as well as the mains, but the actual bullet hits pop more than they resonate. Fireworks also strut through all the speakers. In Chapter 6, which features an eye-widening kidnapping sequence, surprisingly effective use is made of a Tijuana Brass Band standard, followed by an extremely realistic ringing phone (even if your home phone sounds nothing like this, chances are, you may start to answer before you realize the source of the noise). Chapter 9 contains a plane whirring dramatically across the screen and the speaker system simultaneously. Chapter 15 has an overwhelming blast of music in a score that highlights percussion, while Chapter 16 celebrates aural chaos, with jazz, terrified screaming and hysterical laughter all registering as distinct elements in hellish cacophony.
One set-up note – for viewers who aren’t bilingual in English and Spanish, it’s advisable to enable either the English or Spanish subtitle options before hitting play, as the dialogue shifts back and forth between the two languages. Some of the English dialogue looks dubbed, although the match of words to lip movements is consistently pretty good.
‘Dance With the Devil’ won’t be for everyone. For one thing, it’s not fully one genre or another at any given point (unlike, say, ‘From Dusk Till Dawn,’ which was completely a bandit movie until it turned on a dime into a full-tilt vampire flick). Horror fans may feel a bit cheated that the supernatural element isn’t stronger than it is; straight crime drama buffs may not like the dark magic aspect; actual believers of Santeria may object to the way in which their religion and its practitioners are portrayed; some viewers (like this reviewer) may be annoyed with the depiction of rape as sexy. However, the movie’s lively, vivid and outrageous sensibilities make it a compelling if apocryphal look at a pair of out-of-control criminal lovers.