“Unknown Origins” (Spanish title “Orígenes secretos”) plays like the penultimate draft of a mash-up of “Se7en” and “Kick-Ass,” a not-quite-there script that Netflix let its Spanish division put before the cameras.
Co-writer/director David Galán Galindo, who also wrote the book this is based on, cooked up a serial killer story set in the comic book geek universe.
Yes, there’s a “Big Bang Theory” comic book subculture in Madrid, too.
It’s a rather ungainly blend of glib and grisly, with a few laughs, a heart-tugging moment or two and a screen filled with archetypes and stereotypes, cop movie cliches and comic book nerds.
But as its the sort of movie that plays around with comic book origin stories — with a murderer turning his victims into a lifeless Tony Stark or “Fire Man” (Cough cough, “Human Torch”) — and rewards fans who get references like “Joe Chill” and “Detective #33,” well, it’s worth watching in Spanish before Hollywood takes a shot at a remake.
Javier Rey plays David Valentin, a buttoned-down new detective on the force paired up with the legendary Cosme (Antonio Resines) on the older cop’s “last day on the job.”
They show up at the crime scene where a dead body-builder lies, his corpse an unusual hue, a torn comic book cover one of the clues found there.
The squeamish Valentin barely has time to clean the puke off his shoes when his new boss (Verónica Echegui) shows up to remind Cosme to clean out his desk and turn in his badge. She’s hard to take seriously, not because she’s gorgeous, but because she’s all dolled up in a cosplay costume of her own making. Norma is into this stuff.
But the expert Cosme recommends as Valentin’s sidekick is his sleep-till-noon lump of a son. Jorge (Brays Efe) is the classic “comic book guy” — bearded, bellied, with an astonishing memory for comic book arcana. Valentine is contemptuous of this slovenly dork, even when the dork is in his element. Jorge runs a comic book store.
“In MY shop,” Jorge sneers (in Spanish, with English subtitles), the ‘freak’ here is YOU.”
The reluctant partners, often rescued by the cool and often cosplay-attired Norma, and assisted by the seriously smart-assed coroner (Ernesto Alterio), must face a villain who taunts them, leaves them clues and keeps recreating “origin story” comic book hero corpses. Which character will he conjure up next?
“If only it was based on The Seven Deadly Sins,” Jorge cracks (a “Se7en” joke), “this would be a LOT easier.”
The “buddy” dynamic is classic nerd-earns-the-respect of the at-first-contemptuous “partner,” who refuses to call him a partner. “Sidekick?” Eventually.
Norma gets to make the “We’re not childish. We’re more successful than you, for starters” argument made in every “geeks like us” movie or TV show.
A nice twist is Jorge’s journey. Seeing the obsessed murderer’s geek art tableaux, consulting with underground comic expert “Paco” (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a paranoid recluse who keeps cats and hates people, Jorge sees himself.
This script is close enough to the mark that a funnier Jorge turn and more brittle take on David Valentin might have gotten it over the top.
It’s not as funny as “Kick-Ass,” or most movies that take-off on comics and “origin stories,” and not nearly as grimly desperate as “Se7en.” We feel nothing for the victims and the villain is pretty damned unimpressive when we meet him. Not one tasty bad-guy zinger for him to turn into a catch phrase?
There’s a “real heroes” prologue and an epilogue that tidies up a story that has already reached its comic-book-appropriate ending.
Which is why I say “Unknown Origins” is about one screenplay draft shy of being ready for the screen, no matter what the director and novelist who wrote the book it’s based on thinks.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast: Brays Efe, Javier Rey, Verónica Echegui, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Antonio Resines and Ernesto Alterio
Credits: Directed by David Galán Galindo script by David Galán Galindo and Fernando Navarro, based on Galindo’s novel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36