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Cold and wet Herzog

OUT NOW! If SALT AND FIRE is as misjudged as it is laughable, it is chiefly due to the screenplay, penned by Herzog himself.

Werner Herzog’s super-volcano eco-thriller sees a three-person UN delegation fly to an unidentified South American country to investigate an ecological disaster called El Diablo Blanco. There’s a sleazy scientist (Gael Garcia Bernal), his meek antithesis (Volker Michalowski) and their vapid group leader (Veronica Ferres). Upon arrival, they are kidnapped by a group led by a mysterious CEO (Michael Shannon), whose company is responsible for the impending disaster.

Before a faintly promising premise can kick off, the script shamelessly writes off Gael Garcia Bernal after less than 10 minutes because his character has diarrhoea – or, as the script puts it: “hordes of protozoans swirling in my digestive tract” – and eventually side-lines one of the greatest working actors in the industry today (Shannon) to focus on Veronica Ferres. And there is no easy way to say this: Ferres’ speech cadence and telenovela delivery is so jarring, you legitimately wonder whether she has been dubbed in post-production.

However, not everything can be blamed on her sub-par acting. Like his recent scripts, the overwritten dialogue sounds like Google-translated non-sequiters, and not even an actor of Shannon’s heft can make a line like “Truth is the only daughter of time” sound anything but howlingly awful. Don’t be fooled by Shannon and Garcia Bernal’s involvement, the promise of a few impressive vistas of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats or by those who will argue that it’s all a voluntary parody on Herzog’s part; the truth of the matter is that a natural catastrophe would be preferable to this stilted dross.

Salt and Fire | Directed by Werner Herzog (Germany/US/Mexico, 2016) with Michael Shannon, Veronica Ferres. Starts December 8.