First thing I need to say about Ernesto Diaz Espinoza's MIRAGEMAN: It's a very silly movie. This is partly meant as a compliment, as silly can be a good thing for the right kind of picture, and the silliness of MIRAGEMAN doesn't make it a bad movie by any means. The film is a martial arts/comic book hybrid from Chile starring Marko Zaror, who collaborated with Espinoza on 2006's KILTRO, which Magnolia Pictures is releasing on DVD at the end of the month. The set-up has Zaror as a shy and reserved martial artist and bouncer who survived a childhood attack by a rapist that left his younger brother (raped in the same attack) in a sanitarium. Out jogging late one night, he stops a robbery in progress, saving a group of hostages that just so happens to include a beautiful television reporter (María Elena Swett), who extols her unknown savior (she doesn't see his face) on her newscasts. Word of the mysterious hero reaches Zaror's brother and takes him out of his shell, leading Zaror to think he's found his calling and a reason to keep on fighting crime, putting together a costume and calling himself (duh) Mirageman. To the film's credit, the filmmakers have some fun with this premise - Zaror advertises to defend the defenseless by posting leaflets - and there's a certain earnestness that separates it from a lot of other martial arts movies out there. But there's also one great moment that puts MIRAGEMAN over the top, taking it from "good" to "pretty good" and it's one I wasn't expecting: An honest-to-god movie star moment. One of those moments that tells you a new star is here and that attention must be paid. It occurs later in the picture between Zaror and Swett, when he finally shows her his face, even though he knows that cameras are recording it and his identity will be exposed. The look he gives her, intense and smoldering (not a word I often use), will no doubt set many a ladies hearts aflutter (another word I also never use) and even hep hets like myself will have to acknowledge that this guy has the potential to be a new sex symbol and a big star if he's smart about it. Jean-Claude Van Damme sure as hell never had a moment like this in his entire career.
Both MIRAGEMAN and KILTRO screened at both last year's Fantasia and Fantastic Fest, where I met Zaror and Espinoza (even accompanied them to a 2am Thai dinner), and it was interesting to watch how Zaror entered as a nobody and left a star. MIRAGEMAN (which Magnolia also picked up and will be giving some theatrical dates later this year) quickly became one of the hits of the festival and Zaror one of its discoveries, with plenty of autograph and photo requests being sent his way. Fantastic Fest ended up being the perfect place for all this to happen, with its action and comic book friendly crowd, where many a blogger and website ended up singing its praises and the Magnolia deal ended up getting finalized. As usual, the praise for the film itself is a little too much, but for Zaror they're on the money - this guy has what it takes, provided he's smart about the next move he makes. What I found interesting was to see this after KILTRO (made in '06), which is a standard revenge/KARATE KID-type movie, and to see the Espinoza/Zaror team make a picture that actually takes things to the next level. MIRAGEMAN, as silly as it is, is still a smarter, somewhat more emotional picture than KILTRO, and there's no doubt that it does get your blood pumping and get you involved in the plot. As a vehicle for Zaror it's ideal, because it shows off all his strengths, not only as a martial artist but also as a sex symbol, and it gives him a little meat to chew on when it comes to the acting. It's a different role than the one he plays in KILTRO (which is a pretty standard "immature jerk becomes martial arts master") and it shows that he's a decent enough actor to pull of a role that demands something more than just kicking people and doing back flips (which he does extremely well). He pulls off the intensity of his character's inner pain (I know I'm making this sound like it's Hamlet, but how else do I describe it?) and when the film has some fun with its premise he proves himself an amiable sport in allowing himself to look a little goofy. Espinoza's direction is also better than it was with KILTRO - swifter, more economical and much better in the characterization department - and it seems to me like these two are a good team that could, perhaps, go on to bigger and better things together. Chalk MIRGAEMAN up to a nice little surprise and even if it's not really your kind of flick you should still check it out just to say you were there when Marko Zaror came on the scene and became a big star. It might actually happen.