A black comedy told in the garish colors of Almodovar, Alex de la Iglesia’s “El Crimen Perfecto” is a picture that starts strong but runs out of gas in the home stretch, and it would have benefitted from some judicious pruning in the last act. But there’s still enough juicy stuff in the earlier going to make it a treat.

Guillermo Toledo, who looks uncannily like a Spanish Dennis Miller (until he dons a beard in the final ten minutes, after which he more resembles Will Ferrell), stars as Rafael Gonzalez, a smugly suave, self-promoting, ambitious ladies’ man who heads the sales staff in the women’s fashion department of an upscale Madrid store. He hopes to succeed the recently-deceased floor manager–a position that would make him the monarch of his own little kingdom (and the only one that matters to him)–but in order to get the job, he must exceed the sales figures of the men’s clothing department, run by his hated rival Don Antonio (Luis Varela), a prissy, toupee-wearing fellow who also wants the promotion. Though Rafael proves his uncanny salesmanship by fobbing off an expensive coat on a customer at the last minute to top Antonio’s totals, her return of the garment the next day derails his victory. To make matters worse, when Rafael publicly berates the woman for ruining him, the newly-promoted Antonio uses the incident a basis for firing him; a scuffle ensues in a dressing room, during which Antonio is fatally impaled on a clothes-hanger. As if that weren’t enough, a salesgirl named Lourdes (Monica Cervera), who’s long been infatuated with Rafael from afar and whose appearance could most charitably be described as plain, turns out to have witnessed the incident, and soon imposes herself on him, agreeing to help dispose of the body with the understanding that Rafael will repay her not just with advancement at the store but with the long-desired romance as well. Soon the poor fellow finds himself stuck in the sort of stifling life he’s always dreaded, with a homely, clinging wife and in-laws who appear to be certifiably insane, and he’s thinking of ways to free himself by fashioning the titular “perfect crime,” which, in his innocence, he tries to formulate through a careful viewing of movies on the subject.

For much of its first hour, “El Crimen Perfecto” is delightfully cruel. Its brutal take on both Rafael and Lourdes might be off-putting if both weren’t such selfish, nasty schemers deserving of such treatment, and the gruesome bits (especially Antonio’s death and the way in which his corpse is finally gotten rid of) would be disgusting if they weren’t played with an almost cartoon-like sensibility. The pacing is sharp, too, and though the device of having a character–in this case Rafael–talk directly to the audience is overused nowadays, it’s not too annoying in this case. Watching the fellow get his comeuppance at Lourdes’ hands, and her becoming in some ways even worse than he is, is enjoyable as well. It’s when the picture moves into the “perfect crime” gambit that things begin to miscarry. The sense of self-conscious cleverness gradually builds, the effort to divert the audience from what’s happening leads to narrative confusion, and the coda falls flat. But enough good will remains from the earlier parts of the movie that the last-act slump isn’t fatal. Toledo anchors the picture with a performance that swings from high energy at the beginning to hangdog depression near the close, and Cervera manages an opposite transformation nearly as well. Even more importantly, de la Iglegia keeps things bubbling merrily for most of the running-time, benefitting from the colorful cinematography of Jose L. Moreno and the sharp editing of Alejandro Lazaro.

Though not as perfect as the title would indicate, de la Iglesia’s picture is hardly a crime. It works better up front than in the home stretch, but it’s still well worth a look.