Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes"

Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes" follows the story of Santi (Jeric Raval) an obedient boy of Abuyog, Sorsogon who grows up from a simple family. At breakfast, he gets a reminder from his morose-looking mother saying, "The family that prays together stays together." I got misty-eyed from such sentiment. We see him chop wood and fetch water. We also see teenage Santi (Paolo Gumabao) loitering the beach with his girl friend (Nicole Gee), just like a normal young man.

One day, Santi witnesses three girls drown from what appears to be the shallow waters of a polluted beach (they sniffed the air apparently, and lost their ability to swim; isn't that tragic?) He charges into the water fully clothed (long sleeved sweat shirt and jeans) - just like a hero should - and tries hard to save them. All three girls drown anyway. It's the thought that counts, debah?

But the incident has scarred him for life that from here on, he shall save drowning girls - by enrolling as a police man at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA)! Save drowning girls = police! Not as a lifeguard nor a doctor, but a police officer. Get nyo? Fate takes him to the fire brigade where he eventually rises from the ranks, despite conniving nemesis Brando (Jethro Ramirez). He hurts himself during one of their operations while trying to save the life of a guy trapped inside a burning building. But his wife (Hanni Miller) is constantly beside him despite occasional marital conflicts. End.

If there ever was a contest for film making cluelessness, this would be among the finalists. The film is a curmudgeon of genre, and doesn't quite settle into one, simply because its director just doesn't have the facility to do so. When the heavens distributed talent for story telling, Ortega must have fallen asleep. He throws a lot of random scenes together, and prays to the heavens that they organically transform into a coherent story. Wishful thinking, of course. This, it turns out, is one cinematic mess. It's hilarious without meaning to. And in the general sense, annoying for wasting precious time and money. I had to travel far to be fed garbage. It's nothing short of deplorable.

The narrative composition is one big mystery. There are classroom scenes of a boy reciting a gag-inducing poem ("Ang Guro") about a teacher called Mrs. Catapia that concluded with something like, "Hindi lang siya mabait, maganda pa. Ang suwerte ng mister nya." Then the teacher's husband is shown with a wide grin, peeping from the classroom window. Huh? A group of children grilling corn would alternately deliver lines with no rhyme or reason, my niece had better school programs in school, and I didn't have to pay P200 to watch them.

From out of the blue, Joseph Bacareza, head honcho of the Fire National Training Institute (FNTI) suddenly discusses what the institute is all about. I was of course disoriented by Bacareza's sudden appearance because I wasn't there to learn about the darn institute. Then random footages of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) appear. Cadets perform their exhibitional gun drills. This then shifts to a fire prevention training where an instructor is teaching students about clove hitch knot. If you aren't perplexed by this confounding turn events, hang on to your knickers, there's more.


A powerpoint presentation follows. Yup, a slide show. What is fire? What are its 3 stages? What are the modes of heat transfer? Was I in the right venue? Or was this really a tutorial on fire prevention more than a cinematic event? Ask director Rod Ortega. He must have an idea. The plot returns to Jeric Raval training at the fire institute. While everyone on training is bald, Raval sports a full head of hair replete with his characteristic squint and tough-guy grimace.

Cut to Raval courting his new girl friend who replies with an ecstatic, "Yes na yes na - basta pakakasalan mo ako ha?" He was just asking her to be his girl friend, mind you. The film shifts again to a commercial about "Textfire" and the modern facilities acquired by the organization, including a 10-second feature about a volunteer named Gerry Chua. Someone is shooting blanks in all directions. But wait, whatever happened to Santi?

Santi, now a successful fire chief, complete with Dolphy-and-Panchito channeling bodyguards (comedian Kuhol and another poor soul), returns to visit his hometown in Sorsogon. He donates a complete set of musical instruments for his band, "Santiago Serenade and Friends" whose songs are being played all throughout the movie. If I have to say, these are kakapangilabot original songs about love, written in English, played a la bolero, sang in godawful diction. I wanted to squirm and turn into a prune. Moreover, it inspired violent tendencies - like running amok and start shooting the audience inside the cinema. Population: 2. Believe me, watching this so-called movie just isn't healthy.

Another scene shows Santi briefing his fire brigade during one very sunny dayListen and learn: "Maghanda tayo. Ang bagyo ay tatama sa loob ng dalawang oras." I shivered with fright.

Jeric Raval, looking youthful, tries to carry the story with a straight face but is limited by the absence of a decent plot. Former sexy star Hanni Miller (as Santi's wife) isn't given much to chew on either. Young upstarts are showcased, albeit fleetingly. Paolo Gumabao plays the teenage Santi. Despite his "baby fats" (check out his scenes at the beach), it is clear that Dennis Roldan's son is his father's spitting image. He actually reminds me of dashing Jake Ejercito - with lipid excrescences, of course. Nicole Gee and Marina Salvador look promising as well.

The film could be any of the following: a biopic; a flight of fancy; an invitation to the PNPA; a tutorial about fire prevention; a political propaganda for C/Supirentendent Santiago E. Laguna. Someone's probably eyeing for an elective position. Inspiring, this isn't. Quite frankly, this won't help Mr. Laguna. In fact, this dug him a hole. Without a doubt in mind, this godawful flick made me want to play with fire: Burn every darn personality responsible for producing this movie - then  feed them to Kuhol. And please include the SM Cinema executives who thought that this movie deserves to be seen by a paying audience. If this is what characterizes an SM Exclusive, I'd rather stay indoors. Thank you for wasting my time.

Gumabao and Gee enjoy baby-fat moments!

Hanni Miller

Nicole Gee

Paolo Gumabao channels Jake Ejercito
Jethro Ramirez plays bad guy Brando.
C/Supt. Santiago E. Laguna

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