Sunday, October 30, 2011

Praybeyt Benjamin - Selectively Hilarious

Benjamin Santos (Vice Ganda) comes from a long line of aggressive military men bristling with machismo. Unfortunately, he isn’t a slice of the same pie. He sashays with lurid sways in the most flamboyant fashion and his parents (Jimmy Santos and Malu de Guzman) don’t seem to mind. During a party that pays homage to the family’s grand patriarch (Eddie Garcia), Benjamin reunites with his grandfather who hasn’t seen him in quite a while. Needless to say, he isn’t amused to find his flaming “apo” swishier than the next parlorista. In fact, the elder Santos is flabbergasted. Benjie’s pretty much disowned.

Meanwhile, when a local terrorist group, the Bandidos, succeeds to hold in captivity most of the country’s military arm, the country is thrown into chaos. Civil war ensues, and the debilitated government has tasked each family to volunteer a member who would be trained to join the national forces that shall retake sovereign rule. The Santoses are in a dilemma. Benjie’s father is forced to volunteer despite his coterie of systemic illnesses, not to mention his age and physical stature. When conscience assaults our cross-dressing protagonist, Benjie finds himself in a bus full of similar volunteers, willing to sacrifice life and limb for a beleaguered nation.

A group of ragtag misfits joins Benjie including Jojo (Joji Lorenzo), the squad coward; Big Boy (Ricky Rivero), the morbidly obese glutton; Emerson (Kean Cipriano), the boyish nerd; Lucresia (Nikki Valdez), the bellicose girl who’s bent to extract Benjie’s confession regarding his sexuality; Buhawi Manay (Vandolph Quizon) who “sees dead people”, Then there’s Brando Estolas (Derek Ramsay), the hunky platoon leader.

There’s a hitch in Benjie’s plan of redemption: the military frowns upon homosexuals. He has to keep it closeted or he won’t have the chance to help in the rescue of his grandfather from the latter’s captors. But would Benjie be able to hold his ruse when his “hot papa” platoon leader’s anything but unfriendly? In fact, Brando’s offering him a massage in his own quarters! Is it bait? What to do?

In broad comedic strokes, Vice Ganda flaunts his mastery of spoken sarcasm that even mediocre lines don’t sound so bad with his delivery as they should as written material. Lines like “Puro kayo atay at balun balunan, wala kayong puso!” (You’re all liver and gallbladder, but heartless) become morsels of joy. When his father asked why Benjie’s visiting the “punerarya”, he replies with “mamimili ng ulam, gusto nyo ng dinuguan?” If you doubt this, hear how a full house crowd laps it up, it’s unbelievable. Ganda’s acidic dispatch carries a sense of slap-happy realization that indeed, some questions are too silly to be answered.

The most diverting parts are the scenes involving Ganda’s deception; that he is a suppressed flaming fag in a straight man’s turf: scenes at the obstacle course, at the common shower room, his moments with Brando (Derek) which derives the most laughs. Most of the scenes involving Derek bring the crowd to vicious roars of laughter: Vice and Derek running towards each other a la Gabby and Sharon; Vice being rescued from drowning via resuscitation; Vice ebulliently doing push ups as he daydreams of Brando gazing seductively on the ground. Since when has watching a gay guy “crave” for a man become swoon worthy? Try now.

The film is peppered with screwball materials we’ve expected from director Wenn V. Deramas whose comedic resume unfurls from delightful fodders (“Ang Tanging Ina”) to moronic clutter (“BFF: Best Friends Forever”, “Petrang Kabayo”, “Hating Kapatid”). I have been wondering how Deramas has managed to spread himself too thin with a succession of work that continues to deteriorate in film making proficiency. Doesn’t experience make one a better auteur? Apparently not. Truth is, “Praybeyt Benjamin” is home to some of the most hideous computer-generated images to grace the local screen in recent memory. Check out the climbing-the-pole scenes; or the human slingshot scenes. His pococurante stagings are too obvious to ignore. You’d find the end of the harness hanging behind the actors while they float away on powdery scenes. This is a bit annoying because you would expect better craftsmanship, i.e. cinematography and production values, from a mainstream flick such as this.

There are mind benders in the story as well. Twelve generals get kidnapped and the country is in chaos? That’s all it takes? And when you’re recruiting able bodied people, how do you explain someone of Jimmy Santos’ girth and age to make the grade? Females and the aged are allowed, as well as those with hypertension, diabetes, and hemorrhoids – but not physically fit gays? Are we still in an era where gay men are the scourge of the earth? Every one can help, but the gays? Sometimes it is sad that it’s the openly gay personalities like Deramas who discriminate against his own.

Luis Manzano cameos with the horse from “Petrang Kabayo” (Vice Ganda's first starrer), while Angelica Panganiban lends her voice as Derek’s girlfriend (also played by Vice Ganda). Others in the cast include Carlo Agassi, Bodie Cruz and Dennis Padilla.

The entertainment quotient of “Praybeyt Benjamin” relies heavily on Vice Ganda’s dry wit, sincere humor and acerbic delivery. They are his tickets to relatability to a once-homophobic general public despite his overt sexual orientation. In this regard, Vice Ganda has broken barriers. Suddenly, straight men aren't anxious with the third sex. The comedian has taken a new generation of men into a higher level of maturity. Suddenly, gay men are not objects of ridicule. After all, they do that on themselves quite compellingly. That’s a considerable degree of success, if you ask me. If only Vice Ganda employed a more insightful director who doesn't rush around his principal photography.

Derek Ramsay: The British Filipino actor is the unexpected toast of tinseltown after huge blockbusters like "No Other Woman" and "Praybeyt Benjamin".

Alwyn Uytingco and Kean Cipriano

Andrew Wolff, the Philippine Volcano star, plays Abe Sayaf, a terrorist soldier.


luisjen said...

even if i have not watched the movie, i enjoyed reading the blog. a well written one. keep doing it :)

got here because of Luis Manzano's search string in google ..too bad there is no photo of him but then again i understand he has a cameo role only :p

Cathy Pena said...

Thanks, luisjen. Most of the photos are from the trailer. Luis appears in 10 seconds or even less, but he is a luminous presence. I'm sure it was a pleasure to his admirers. ;-)