Mumble in the Jungle

It's hard to go wrong with a story by Peruvian master Mario Vargas Llosa. The naughty premise of his novel Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, about an upright military man ordered to start a prostitution service for soldiers quartered in the Amazon, is enough to keep the film adaptation by director Francisco J. Lombardi interesting for most of its two-hour-plus run. Then there is the very handsome presence of leading man Salvador del Solar -- who makes a convincing journey from rectitude to dissolution back to rectitude again in the title role -- while Colombian telenovela sensation Angie Cepeda smolders as the special service's favorite prostitute. All this against the stunning backdrop of the Amazonian jungle. Still it takes too long for the film to plod from the titters of the sex plot into the more complicated terrain of Vargas Llosa's critique of corruption in the Peruvian army. And despite high production values -- indeed perhaps in part because of the staid and sterling Hollywood standard of the film -- Lombardi's straightforward direction makes that journey all too tedious. Perhaps it's true that the Amazon is a miasma of irresistible passion, but the proof is not to be found in this film.


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