The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Bigtime: Taking risks for the big time

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Danny (Winston Elizalde) and Jonas (Nor Domingo) are lowlife buddies who tire of the small change they get from their petty crimes. They dream of winning the jackpot by planning and staging a kidnap and demanding huge ransom money. They abduct Melody (Joanne Miller), a self-absorbed fan of Philippine movie actresses, and accidentally meet in Melody’s house Wilson (Jamie Wilson), Melody’s boyfriend and the gruff and temperamental son of Don Manolo (Michael de Mesa), a ganglord involved with payoffs to different politicians. Disgusted by his father’s refusal to hatch his own criminal operations, Wilson turns around Danny and Jonas’s kidnapping into a “joint venture” and conspires with them to have himself abducted as a way of siphoning his father’s funds.

Through Danny and Jonas’s encounter with Wilson and Melody, first-time director Mario Cornejo runs the gamut of ambitions and personal dreams of bagging the big time. Melody with her mother’s zealous prodding sets her eyes on becoming a beauty queen-actress but her father wants her to be a nurse. Wilson demands his own share in the underworld business but his father often silences him and envisions him winning the presidency.

Cornejo pitches these clashing interests in a comic voice that fastidiously avoids the slapstick and toilet humor tone found in many Pinoy comedy films. With snappy editing, a vigorous music score and a gallery of shrewd offbeat characters (standouts being Elizalde, Domingo, Wilson, and de Mesa), Cornejo propels the film with an infectious energy that takes the audience on a spirited ride. Part of the fun lies in the way Cornejo and his co-screenwriter Monster Jimenez weld comic brio with gangster grit and embed in their text various pop culture references. Cornejo and Jimenez concoct a heady brew of diverse influences – the use of Quentin Tarantinoesque stylized violence (ala Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), freeze-frame character intros from gangster chic films like Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, allusions to the Godfather trilogy, debates about the merits of icons in Phil. cinema, and so on.

The series of plot reversals accelerates the narrative tension and with the abundance of shady and quirky character portraits, one looks forward to a thrilling finale. But the film’s final shootout scene suddenly puts a brake on the ride. The unconventional crashes into the conventional as the lead characters outshoot each other. By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles and all have delivered a monologue about their fallen state, one wishes there was a more satisfying ending worthy of all the witty buildup that preceded it. In spite of this meltdown, the film leaves an indelible impression of how the Pinoy comedy form can be energetically reinvented in the hands of risk takers like Cornejo. — Mike Rapatan