Gone Haywire

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By Michael Kho Lim, Contributor

BuyBust (Reality Entertainment and Viva Films) follows a team of drug enforcement agents in a botched drug operation, where each member gets killed, one after another, until only the lead actor remains. Agent Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) is the last woman standing in this latest action-thriller film from director Erik Matti, co-written by Anton Santamaria.

There are no spoilers because there is nothing to spoil in the narrative.

The first act establishes the story’s premise and provides some background information about the characters (especially Manigan’s) along the way, but that’s about it.

MANIGAN (Curtis) and Yatco (Vera) in one of the highly charged confrontation scenes with the residents of Gracia ni Maria.

Characterization is not fully developed. The second act is a prolonged chase scene, riddled with gore and violence—from gunshot wounds to stabbing to cutting someone’s head off using garden shears to slashing the leg with a broken mirror, it is bloodbath at its finest. The last act—specifically Manigan’s final encounter with the drug lord Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde)—appears to be Matti’s (almost preachy) commentary on the government’s war on drugs.

The whole film is almost like the television series The Walking Dead in the context of a drug war, where zombies are angry residents and society’s scoundrels who attack drug enforcement agents in mob-like kuyog fashion and are forcibly trapped inside the labyrinthine community of Gracia ni Maria.

It is also like playing a computer game. In fact, some of the jerky camera movements resemble the point of view of a Counter Strike player. Intentional or not, the camera work does not drive home any message, except that it is just shaky and difficult to follow the sequence.

PDEA Agents Santos (Lopez), Elia (Muhlach) and Yatco (Vera) try to find their way out of the labyrinthine slums.

The fight scenes are well choreographed, but that is also the problem. Some are noticeably orchestrated. Curtis does a very good job though. We can see how much she has trained and prepared for these scenes. However, there are also many scenes that make the characters look incredible to the point of being absurd. This is especially true for Agent Yatco (Brandon Vera) who seems to possess superhuman strength and is always saved by his amulet. From being electrocuted to drowning—name it, he always comes out alive until a bullet to his head ends his life towards the final act.

If the film is used as metaphor, it alludes to the government’s ongoing war on drugs that critics regard as a fake, exaggerated, unrealistic, staged and a trap in itself. It is interesting to note that audience members cheer at every chance agents get to kill their “enemies”—a reaction tantamount to being desensitized to the high number of deaths brought about by this war, be they become collateral damage or not.

When Matti made On the Job in 2013, he set the bar high for everyone, including himself.

Unfortunately, BuyBust fails where On the Job succeeds—i.e. in telling a great story.

Audience members who expect BuyBust to match or surpass what Matti did in On the Job will be disappointed.

What are your thoughts?

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