Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bulong - Tepid Scares and Scanty Chuckles

I was quite disappointed with Chito Rono’s unseemly marriage of horror and comedy which seems like a novel idea to begin with. It postulates on the idea that if you whisper a wish on a newly departed soul, your wish will come true. The theory rests on the idea that these itinerant souls may convey your wishes to the afterlife!

Conan (Vhong Navarro) is banking on this superstition to summon the affections of an affable nurse Ellen (Bangs Garcia) at the hospital where he works as an orderly. Matters turn to worse when he finds Ellen in tender embrace with resident physician Doc Randy (Jon Avila). Conan feels he has to expedite the dubious rite. With the help of his childhood friend Oprah (Angelica Panganiban), he attends a wake and soon finds himself whispering to the dead. But nothing is happening. When he gives Oprah a kiss, she reciprocates with a magnanimous slap. Why wasn’t it working? The reason? The deceased was deaf when she was alive, thus a jejune outcome. (Did you laugh?) One night, a drunken Conan witnesses a road accident involving an old woman, Lola Paula. While waiting for help, she expires – and Conan gets a second chance to whisper to the dead.

A day after, triumphant Conan finds Ellen throwing herself lustfully towards him. Life is turning over into an enchanting chapter for Conan, but suddenly, Lola Paula’s ghost begins to haunt him. He learns that he whispered on a mangkukulam – a witch (played by Angie Ferro) who unwittingly cast a fatal spell on her own daughter (Sylvia Sanchez) and grandchild (Neri Naig as Lala). But wait, Conan and Oprah could still save Lala, right? How can they break the spell? This takes them to far away Bohol to battle the dark forces borne out of a spell.

If you are following me so far, it becomes clear that the title is erroneous, as it wasn’t the “Bulong” (whisper) that made things go bump in the night, but whispering on a dead and conflicted witch! Thus, “Kulam” would be its rightful title.

Vhong Navarro does his best to carry this discordant genre-busting flick on his scrawny shoulders with ease and charm, but it is far from the chortles borne out of great comedies. In fact, several of the gags fall flat, and even Angelica Panganiban’s masterful comic timing fails to lend its brilliance here. As Oprah, Panganiban is an inconsequential character that can be stricken off the cast without the premise tumbling down. But you have to remember, this is a Chito Rono film – who hasn’t done a lot of mediocre work! Where did it go wrong?

For one, some of the characters waver in their committment to hybrid laughter and terror. Ruben Gonzaga (PBB’s grand winner) is neither funny nor scary as Conan’s hunchback cousin Simon. Our favorite extra, Melanie Dujunco – the queen of the overeager, and one of 2010’s worst actresses for her scene-stealing role in “Emir” – manifests her hammy self once again as a nurse. If you think we are picking on her, check out the scene where she was told to call security. Dujunco, in her healthy demeanor, then shrieks, “Wala na tayong security!” We heard someone from the back saying, “Ang OA naman!” Once again, in ways where she feels this was going to be her penultimate, Famas’ Best Extra Award-winning scene! Why Rono would keep employing a sore thumb-stickler like Dujunco is beyond us! Can’t act – and isn’t even easy on the eye to at least parry the blows of her thespic inanity!

When Conan visits a narcoleptic “manghuhula” (clairvoyant), she asks him what he was there for. He replies with a sardonic, “Eh di hulaan n’yo.” (Did you laugh this time?) There are confounding scenes here; scenes that belong to a different movie: A hotel concierge wearing a giant Tarsier mask, and a couple of Korean tourists suddenly turning into zombies engaged in tag-you’re-ithabulan” with Conan and Oprah. Upon reaching Bohol, they found the disgruntled family of the witch, all named Lala, Lily and their Lolo. “Ma-L pala kayong lahat,” quips Conan. (Did you laugh again?) Other gags are just too random to believe this is a script written by Roy Iglesias: “Sinong artista ang maraming ngipin?Reply: “Si Ma-teeth (de Leon.)" "Sinong artista ang mas maraming ngipin? Reply: "Eh di si Edgar Mor-teeth!” As if that wasn’t enough: “Sinong artista ang isa lang ang ngipin?Reply: “Vilma Isan-tooth” Having fun so far?

Which reminds me, I shouldn’t have missed my orthodontist’s appointment had I known this was gonna be too flimsy both as comedy or horror.

Vhong Navarro is a funny man, and he deserves every accolade he has been receiving as one of our naturally funny comedians. But even great comedians can’t do much with a material as ill-conceived as “Bulong”.

You can’t make cinematic magic out of knee-jerk wisecracks or peremptory creepy tales. Not when you can’t even justify your title.

P.S. "Bulong" is rated B by those droll trolls at the Cinema Evaluations Board (C.E.B.), some of the most enterprising group of individuals in the land who patronize their friends more than great movies.

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