On to part 2 of my MMFF (mis)adventure..where it is always rewarding to find some (potential) gems amidst the usual holiday dross.
Obviously, the runaway success of OTJ (On The Job) in the local box-office is gradually triggering the revival of the action genre in Pinoy cinema. In this case, Robin Padilla, the one-time “Bad Boy” of the big-screen, seeks to reclaim the throne he vacated when he opted to try his hand in rom-coms and series TV.
Here he plays Senator Gabriel Alcaraz, who is set to expose a corruption scandal plaguing a government headed by Genoveva Obrero (portrayed by Bibeth Orteza as a thinly-veiled expy of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) The faux-GMA’s defenders peg him to a shoot-out that took place ten years back. In fear, Senator Alcaraz hightails it out of the country and onto The Netherlands, where he meets up with an old police ally, Sebastian Jago (theater vet Pen Medina).
Hot on his trail is Maya Limchauco (Bela Padilla), pressured for a rating-breaking scoop by her supervisor at the fictional Manila Broadcasting Network (MBN). Meanwhile, the government sics Alcaraz’s old colleague, Gen. Dante Cristobal (Michael De Mesa) after both of them, where they employ the help of Interpol and the local politie.
Meanwhile, Alcaraz’s family – particularly his three teenage children – have to deal with social ostracism in the wake of the media coverage over the senator’s escape.
Joyce Bernal, a trusted hand in rom-coms, ventures into straight-up thriller territory for the first time – and comes up all winners. Teaming up once more with Robin, whom she has worked with previously in films like “Tunay Na Tunay, Gets Mo” and “Buhay Kamao”, she allows him to restrain his emotions, which should allow a semblance of maturity expected from an elected official (albeit one allegedly modeled after real-life Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson). One particularly enjoyable scene would be where Alcaraz swaps clothes with a janitor in the NAIA restroom before sneaking out of the airport.
The supporting cast are just as effective, whether it is Mylene Dizon as Alcaraz’s wife or Carla Humphries as the Amsterdam-based volunteer worker who provides shelter to Alcaraz and Jago against Cristobal’s search party. Even while Carla and Bela do make their presences felt on-screen, it is commendable that they did not wind up being written as sex objects to establish the hero’s machismo.
The script is tight and well-placed, based on a story co-written by Bela Padilla (another feather in the young one’s cap!!!) loosely based on the NBN-ZTE whistle-blower scandal that wound up the Arroyo presidency. The cinematography makes ample use of split-screens to convey the illusion of constant closed-circuit scrutiny, particularly in the scenes involving Alcaraz’s hasty departure from the country. Of course, this being a Robin Padilla vehicle, there are the expected action scenes – mainly those where Binoe shows mastery of aikido skills, along with some gun-play (albeit not as gory or OTT as Boy Golden).
Now who said there was no room for grown-up fare in the MMFF?? Judging from its near-clean (and well-deserved) sweep of the trophies during the recent awards night, hope still shines bright for more adult-oriented material in upcoming installments of this annual institution.