Isabel Reyes (Rhian Ramos) is the country’s favorite kontrabida. She embodies the acid tongued, duplicitous screen villain whose sophisticated beauty is as acuminous as her deceptively dainty curves.
What’s more, she abides by her notoriety – her slaps are as malevolent as her lines and she makes life hell for her co-stars. People in the street abhor her Dominique (her teleserye persona) with passion. Blind dates refuse to see her, making her hopelessly single and peerless.
One day, a destitute man prodigiously saves her from getting run over by a speeding vehicle. Such random act of kindness from a stranger becomes an epiphany for Isabel. The heavens open into a new day, and she metamorphoses into a changed woman. But this has grave consequence to her work. Ferocious and cruel Dominique dissipates into a heedful creature that can no longer pull a good old fashioned slap! What’s a searing villain without it? She has to get her mojo back – and fast!
With steadfast diligence, Isabel enlists the help of the legendary Vixens of Mean: Cherie Gil, Maritoni Fernandez and Gladys Reyes who refer her to the iconic villaness Bella Flores! This leads her to revisit her native Palawan searching for the one person who caused her sheer misery when she was a young girl – a boy named Chris Bernal (Aljur Abrenica). Bullied as a young girl, Isabel found in Chris a steady comforting presence. But one crucial night at a talent contest, Chris flusteringly stood her up. He never saw him again.
Isabel travels back to her hometown in Palawan and serendipitously finds Hotel Marot, a rundown guesthouse owned by Chris Bernal’s family! But Chris is indigent. He has relegated the management of the hotel to his wicked aunt Marot (Odette Khan) who wastes no time reminding him how much she has dispensed to keep the place afloat. Moreover, they need to come up with P50,000 at the end of the month or they lose the hotel for good. What’s a guy to do? Chris with all his physical endowments hasn't even finished school and has descended as his own hotel’s errand boy and gardener.
One fateful day, Isabel meets Chris again. Sparks fly - that much is clear, but our protagonist is there for a reason; she has a mission to fulfill. To bring down Chris Bernal! And regain the malignity that has since forsaken her. “To put enmity between the man and the woman,” declares a Biblical phrase. Heads will roll, right?
Isabel gradually plots to destroy not just Chris but everyone and everything that matters to him: the legacy of his parents, his friends, his love life (Chris has two “accidental” girl friends), his cunning Aunt Marot and cousin Rob, and his relationship with Joyce (Chris’ younger sister). But the best laid plans are no match to an intrepid heart. In delectable stages of affection, Chris and Isabel couldn’t help themselves as they eventually fall for each other. What becomes of Isabel’s errr “cactus heart”? Will she forge ahead with her plans of retribution? Will she ever get her “asim” back”?
Director Jade Castro playfully weaves a light hearted and lithe narrative that belies the dark past of the characters (bullying, abuse, parental death, poverty). The film, at the very least, is a boisterous acknowledgement to the resilience of the human spirit! Life can still be fun despite the odds and the heartaches!
Rhian Ramos comes into her own as the conflicted, but previously cantankerous villain. Though occasionally tentative in her grasp of her character, Ramos inhabits Isabel with flirtatious grace and obsequious sophistication. It’s hard not to root for her crafty shenanigans. In fact, when she goes mano-a-mano with Tita Marot at the dining table, I was livid with amusement. “Kayo pala ang nag ma-manage nito. Kumuha ba kayo ng Business Management? Para kasi syang napabayaan lang!” I was snickering from my seat all the way to the bomb shelters of Syria. And when you’re up against the formidable Odette Khan, with her protruding gaze and venomous countenance, you better hold your ground or you’re minced meat! When Isabel finally drops her trademark line: “No one tries to sampal me!” I was ready to holler, clap and whistle with glee! Having survived Miss Khan without looking dugyutin is in itself a notable rite of passage. These are moments of pure cinematic bliss indeed!
Aljur Abrenica gets lucky this time. Director Castro and co-writer Aloy Adlawan effectively play to the actor’s distinctive weaknesses. His hammy countenance is written in his character. His inclination for bad English delivery is further employed to build his character, one who hasn’t finished his education due to poverty. As a consequence, Aljur’s Chris Bernal becomes a sufficient protagonist. It isn't a stretch when a singer portrays the role of a singer, or when a priest performs the role of a priest, right?
This doesn’t mean we believe Aljur has improved and shied away from his trademark “wooden” ways. In fact, Abrenica is as hammy as ever. Those who say otherwise is afflicted with a myopic vision that's easily remedied by a consult with an Ophthalmologist.
Abrenica's performing proclivity is exemplified by a few scenes. When younger sister Joyce (Bea Binene) starts to ask “hypothetically” about romantic relationships, he blurts, “Kahit hippopotamus pa yan. Bawal pa rin!” We were looking from side to side to find the verve and fun that we obviously missed, but they were nowhere. When a customer asks Chris his opinion about a pot of plants, he stammers with a tepid: “Because p-ppplowers are nice like you, ma’am!” He need not accentuate the jologs veneer because even that delivery sounded too flat for amusement.
Abrenica inconveniently lacks insight. As gorgeously delectable as he looks onscreen, Aljur is a vacuous canvas, beautiful to look at, but nothing more than a pretty exhibit in a room. This is a curiosity because he wasn’t this pedestrian in Maryo J. delos Reyes’ “Nandito Ako… Nagmamahal sa Yo” (his first film under Regal Films, 2009). What happened to the promising young actor who would become “Machete”?
Some scenes needed cleaner execution. Let’s take Aljur and Rhian’s quasi-tango which is painfully executed. The moves are shot in episodic cuts; the dips and turns rough and graceless. There should be flow to the dance of affection, but there’s nothing there but the staged claps of the local folks who all looked bored! What about that messy and slipshod Awards Night? It reminded me of the campy Awards Night in the original “Temptation Island” – that was 32 darn years ago! Despite these flaws, there’s fun to be had in Isabel’s journey back home.
Though “My Kontrabida Girl” isn’t as solid as Jade Castro’s previous works (“Zombadings”, “My Big Love”, “Endo”), the upbeat performance of its cast, the undeniable energy, the kinetic pace and tongue in cheek humor will ultimately win you over. “The Road” has ushered an era of renaissance of sorts for GMA, and I am nothing less than ecstatic! The film has artistically clobbered the horrendous “Corazon Ang Unang Aswang” as they come to a head. After years of banal movie projects, GMA has finally found its mojo back!
Derrick Monasterio and Julie Anne San Jose sing Janno Gibbs' ode to affection, "Ang Aking Puso". The music video, though sparse, is an engaging watch.
Aljur Abrenica and Rhian Ramos
Bea Binene and Jake Vargas as young lovers Joyce and Poy.
Ever clueless posterboy of masculine beauty.
Chris' wacky friends get punked into doing the full monty. They then discover their "shortcomings" going viral in one of the film's hilarious scenes.