Secuestro Express Review
By Chris Barsanti
Someday filmmakers will tire of the sound of hammers clicking into the chambers of handguns and the sight of amped-up thugs terrorizing their victims. Until that day, though, we're stuck with films like Secuestro Express. A routine kidnap thriller from Venezuela gussied up in some socially relevant finery, it manages to take a setting of volcanic unrest and reduce it to the most banal of stories. If one were to find something good to say about it, then that thing would be: It's nice for variety's sake to at least see the same old effluvia coming from a different country than usual.The title of Secuestro Express ("Express Kidnapping") comes from the trend of quickie kidnappings in Latin America, and the film's look aims to capture the rapid-fire nature of these endeavors. Shot with DV cameras on the streets of Caracas, the film - written and directed by first-timer Jonathan Jacubowicz, who was himself briefly kidnapped a few years back - starts in the early morning hours and is over in time for the surviving principals to grab lunch. A quick montage of news footage establishes Caracas as a roiling cauldron of discontent where anything can happen. Given its ostensible interest in the plight of the city's poor, however, the same point would have been gotten across if they'd just played "Welcome to the Jungle" over the credits. Then there's the camera-in-overdrive visual style familiar from TV crime procedurals.In true post-noir style, Jacubowicz bangs out the film's principal characters, giving them each their own identifying stylized freeze-frame (example: "BUDU-Painter. Rapist. Sentimental Father"). The kidnapping crew, a hopped-up trio of gunslingers, takes their targets at 5:30am and then drive around for a while, trying to get a quick pile of cash out of their (hopefully) rich parents. Carla and Martin, stylish engaged yuppies who like clubbing and cocaine, seem to be good targets, and it looks like their fathers will cough up the ransom before more than a few hours have passed.In between, the kidnap crew rolls around Caracas, smoking up, having Martin get money out of the ATM, and shoving their guns into the abductees' heads (they do that a lot). Like the filmmakers, they seem somewhat at a loss for what to do. Before long, things will have come to a conclusion of sorts, but only after more guns have been shoved in more faces (that happens a lot). As a kidnap thriller, Secuestro Express is a complete bore, but what's worse is that it occasionally seems to imagine it's making a point.Class warfare underpins the story, with the kidnapped being harangued endlessly about flaunting their privilege in a city where "half the population is starving." "You rich are just asking to get killed," they're told at one point. But Jacubowicz seems to just be trying to find an easy reason to give audience sympathy to his kidnappers and to deprive the kidnapped of any. It's hard to explain away the film's sadistic delight in the torture and debasement of the kidnapped when none of the kidnappers seem that badly off, and one (Trece) is even identified as middle-class. The film even undercuts its own class warrior status by assigning all the traits of the thoughtful and reluctant criminal - there's always one in a film like this - to the middle-class character, showing the other two lower-class ones as little better than animals.Supposedly, Secuestro Express (the first Venezuelan film to be distributed by a Hollywood studio) was to open our eyes to the reality of the situation in Caracas. Point taken, crime there is out of control. But it's hard not to think - especially after the film's crass, cheap, and manipulative conclusion - that a film which actually showed the horrid conditions of the city would have been more effective than one which simply wallowed in bloody gangster posing.