Neon Flesh is a seedy, hopped-up film about superficial crooks who like abusing women and enjoy being unlikable. Writer-director Paco Cabezas, a deeply confused Guy Ritchie rip-off artist, only seriously attempts to humanize the film’s three main protagonists, wannabe crooks that open a brothel, during the third act. By then, though, seeing these petty characters’ plans inevitably blow up in their faces does nothing to convince us that they aren’t just scummy, one-dimensional goons.
Even if you ignore film’s abject rudderlessness, you still have to contend with the myriad stylistic cheap tricks Cabezas stole from Ritchie, like his thrice warmed-over use of slow motion coupled with posturing voiceover narration. (At least Ritchie’s gangster films interrogate, if dimwittedly so, their glossy images of self-obsessed thugs doing their thing.) With no slick moves and no brains backing its skuzzy narrative, Neon Flesh is just a proudly tacky film about unconscionably tawdry people.
Ricky (Mario Casas) wants to open a brothel called the Hiroshima to honor his mother, a prostitute who’s about to be released from jail. He enlists his violent and myopic buddies Angelito (Vincente Romero) and “The Kid” (Luciano Caceres) to help acquire prostitutes for this endeavor. This includes kidnapping Mobila, a pregnant illegal immigrant, and stuffing her bound and gagged into the trunk of a car. The worst part about this scenario is that, because Cabezas introduces each character with faux-dynamic nametags that show up around characters whenever they first appear on screen, Mobila’s nametag appears above the trunk the Kid stuffs her into.
Over and over again, Cabezas flaunts his disdain for his characters by cruelly making fun of them for being disgusting and then paradoxically expecting us to sympathize with them because they’re so despicably trashy. For instance, Angelito gives Hiroshima’s prostitutes a pep talk that involves showing them a bestiality porn starring a dog named Lassie (“Basically the position’s the same except with a dog”); this is after he sincerely complains about how his gun is chafing his penis (“It’s giving me eczema”).
There’s no point where you can step back and appreciate either Cabezas’s grotesque attempts at levity or weak attempts at showing a street-level view of society. There’s just too much quirk on display here and not enough actual content. A transsexual prostitute named Princess (Damaso Conde) dreams about getting a sex change operation so she can star in porn. She explains that she wants to be a porn star so she can be immortalized on film forever. Cabezas immediately deflates that cheaply sympathetic dream by having a ricocheted bullet hit Princess right in the crotch, allowing her to jump the long line of people wanting for sex changes. You can laugh at your characters and even take cheap shots at them all you want, but when you do it as flagrantly and as unsuccessfully as Cabezas does here, you rightfully lose your credibility as a humanist.