Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cesar Montano's "Hitman" - Inferiorly Channeling Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "Headshot"

During a short, albeit relaxing getaway from work sometime November last year, I chanced upon Pen-ek Ratanaruang’sHeadshot” in Bangkok’s Lido Cinema. It ran alongside the Cannes’ winning apocalyptic drama, “Taking Shelter” and Julia Leigh’s surreal “Sleeping Beauty”. In the movie, Tul (Jayanama Nopachai), a hitman sustains a near fatal head wound that leaves him in a coma for 3 months. Fast forward to three months hence, Cesar Montano’sHitman” opens in local cinemas with dejavu’ish plot that had me thinking, “I know I’ve seen this before”. Unfortunately, that’s where comparison ends.

Ben Murillo (Cesar Montano) is sidetracked for years after miraculously surviving a gun shot in the head. Left for dead, Ben was comatose for 7 years, but he is gradually recovering. His memory has been spotty since then. One day, he meets Gina (Sam Pinto), a popular model who, unknown to Ben, is the daughter of Amando (Ricky Davao), a casuistic character who runs an illegal ring of activities that range from white slavery and drugs to gambling. At the very heart of this business is Tomas (Phillip Salvador), the head assassin. Tomas is tasked to eradicate any impediment, including Ben, a promising assassin under Tomas’ care. When Ben tells his superiors of his intention to retire and leave the group, the big boss decides to obliterate Ben.

Meanwhile, there is much internal strife within Amando’s “kingdom”. Tomas is demanding P10 million from Amando for an earlier deal they’ve supposedly agreed upon. But Amando is defiant. Moreover, the web of deceit reaches Alvin (Mark Herras), Amando’s much abused adopted son. When Amando’s other son Mike (Joko Diaz) gets killed in the crossfire, another set of henchmen have been tasked to take Gina who’s estranged from her father. But Gina fortuitously harbors an indecent stash of dirty money hidden somewhere so she conveniently becomes a target.

When Ben hooks up with flirty Gina, he gets thrown back into the same quagmire he once escaped from; the same people who had him assassinated. And this time, he has to protect her to his death. He once lost his pregnant wife to the same people. Never again!

Cesar Montano was always a competent actor. After his Seiko days, his career choices were note worthy. But "Hitman" is a baffling cinematic comeback. Despite his character being a former assassin - who should have a dark, brooding persona (after all, his pregnant wife died and slices of his memory have been staved off his consciousness) - but Montano's Ben is curiously chirpy and upbeat, posturing as though he runs with the hip and yuppy crowd! In fact, he even mutters cringe-worthy english phrases: "See you, guys!" This is how a hitman talks? There's more where that comes from, but we've noticed Montano's awkward penchant for intermittent Anglican lines (think: Piolo Pascual, Jericho Rosales, Diether Ocampo).

Posturing for effect works when you're relatively juvenile, but when you're pushing 50, such tack becomes gag-worthy! I suddenly remembered his "Bandila" interview with Boy Abunda where he would painfully dive into the Queen's tongue, forthwith stalling when he loses grip with the language. In the same interview, he lovingly refers to his mother as "his" - "his prayer", "his dream", "his intention". Bandila, as far as I know, is a news magazine show spoken in the vernacular. Ba't kasi ipinipilit ang 'di kaya, di ba? Speaking Tagalog is never a fault, and running around town to promote an action picture in fractured English can only do your promotion harm! I remember Montano's "Singing Bee" days where even pronunciation of the song's English titles are an afflictive; sheer agony! Desperation to speak the Queen's language should never be caught on camera! Do your practice behind the cam, lest you want your audience nauseating over your despondency!

Sam Pinto looks immaculately beautiful all throughout. Her early scenes look relaxed. She is, after all, portraying the role of a model - so how hard can that be? This is promising since in her past movies, she has always delivered mind-bogglingly flat characterizations. It's clear she needs to do something about her thespic acumen - or the lack of it. As the movie unravels to its hundred-and-one twists, we realize that Pinto is in dire need of help. In a scene where gun men break into her place, as Ben fights the hooded henchmen, Gina (Pinto) comes out of the bathroom looking awkward, not to mention oblivious to the gun shots heard all over the place. She tentatively calls: "Ben? Nasaan ka?" Yet all we witness is a
blunt affect, an emotion-wanting facial expression if you will. She didn't look perturbed of the bullets flying around - or her appliances breaking and crashing down the floor. Yeah, forget those bullets! She needed Ben to dry her wet hot bod! Her stark
cluelessness was a spectacle in itself. She personified blank emotionality where there should be fear, concern, and even histrionic demeanor!


This is repeated in a scene where Mark Herras, playing the avenging brother, delivers a 7-minute spiel about "taking charge" in front of sister Gina who's crying invisible tears. After the line, Herras declares: "Akin na ang kaharian n'yo!" Everyone understood what he was saying. I did! It was retribution and ambition coming into place. Then Pinto replies: "Ano ang ibig mong sabihin?" I almost fell off my chair! After a seven-minute explanation, she obviously didn't get a morsel of epiphany from Herras' confession? And it showed in Pinto's face! She was baffled to bits! Poor, poor girl!

Phillip Salvador does better as the head hitman Tomas who trained Ben. It was inevitable that the "teacher" and "student" would eventually dive into a scuffle. This was cinematic conjecture. After all, Salvador's mano-a-mano with Montano would convey gravitas - in an action showdown between the two formidable action-drama actors, each one as competent and iconic as the other! Unfortunately, the artistic choices for the staging of the climactic shootout comes off with an uneven and misguided strategem. Suddenly, Montano decides to infuse ill-advised humor, one-sided and flat as his leading lady's expression:

During the shootout, Ben would say: "Pinapakain pa ako ng alikabok ng matandang yun."

"Nakakatakbo pa ang matandang 'to eh may rayuma!"

"Ang daldal ng lolo ah."

"Akala ko tuhod lang ang mahina, pati pala mata!"

Yet all these lines were mere passing of gas where Tomas was concerned. In fact, he never acknowledged any of them. And there's something about badly delivered humor without a reciprocating audience, right? It drives the salient point that it's falling on deaf ears because it just isn't funny! How do you reconcile someone with a massacred family and a bullet in his skull delivering jovial lines as though he's in a sitcom?

This discrepancy of character is similarly evident in Phillip Salvador and Ricky Davao's characters where they play brothers. Phillip inconveniently calls Ricky "kuya"! Is anyone blind? Ricky maybe heavily built, but you can't deny Phillip's seniority where facial features are concerned. By at least a decade! His facial integument sags and his wrinkles abound!

Mark Herras looked alarmingly gaunt. It looked like a sea breeze could throw him down easily. He's cachectic and tuberculous. If he's gunning for the action genre, he would need to bulk up a bit - instead of looking like there's an on-going famine in the Philippines. In fact, I didn't realize it was Mark until the latter half of the film when he was finally given lines! When his character came out of his shell, he was emphatic, bearing pellucid motives. He understood where his character Alvin was coming from. That was good enough for me... as long as he doesn't use his brawn when there's none.

"Hitman" underlines a few of the reason why the action genre died a natural death. Like its predecessors, Director Montano's film is recklessly written, even incoherent in narrative structure. The story is derivative; the skill in film making unimpressive. Montano's action hero is an amalgam of characters that contradict with his past and present. In fact, you don't understand how he became as he has become. There's a palpable disproportion to the way he's depicted, making it easy not to empathize with him. Heck, I never even found myself sympathizing with Ben from start to finish. All I kept thinking was how he was able to enveigle Sam Pinto to do bath tub scenes and half a dozen of lip service with him!
Inspiring eh?

As for mirroring Ratanaruang's vision, it's better if we forget this connection all together. Someone's bound to deplorably suffer in comparison.

Tul, a hitman, sustains a bullet wound in the head in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot

Sam Pinto and Cesar Montano's constrained pairing. She speaks English, he speaks quack.

Cesar Montano postures like a yuppy action hero: "See you, guys!"


sineasta said...

i remember when ligalig came out, daming pumuri sa kanya. when i saw it, i realized that it was a High Tension copycat! he didn't even bother to say na adapted or at least inspired 'yung film niya sa nasabing pelikula. and now this one? i wouldn't be surprised if he took inspiration from the film you mentioned.

Cathy Pena said...


Cesar Montano isn't known for churning out mediocre works ("Panaghoy sa Suba", "Mananabas", "Bullet")... until now!

Hitman's a sloppy script and references to Ratanaruang's "Headshot" are recignizable. I just believe that if a project is inspired by something, it should be acknowledged accordingly. That's what people do in a civilized world, di ba? If it isn't, some similarities are uncanny. But then...

Armand DC said...

Well, original or not. The movie is still trash. Oh, the meanie comes from the beanie grew to a giant beanstalkie! :))

Check my review, Cathie! :))

Cathy Pena said...

@ Armand:

Errr not entirely trash. Camera work in the early part of the movie is more than decent. Other than that, the script needs a lot of work. And I don't even mean "fine tuning".

Yadu Karu said...

nice review..natawa ako esp. sa part ni Sam Pinto :-)

Cathy Pena said...

@ Yadu Karu:

Thanks. Sam Pinto was my favorite when she was in PBB. Unfortunately, real life doesn't translate to the screen. What a waste of movie star looks.