SINAG MAYNILA | REVIEW | Expressway (2016)

Ato Bautista's Expressway, an entry to this year's Sinag Maynila Independent Film Festival, mildly reminds you of Erik Matti's On the Job. The film features two hitmen: an old man about to exit and his trigger-happy, unpredictable young protege. But if On the Job provides a fascinating insight into a crime syndicate—therefore violence is a necessity—Expressway only provides gratuitous violence.

Expressway is the tale of two hitmen, one on the road to redemption, and the other, well, is just eye-rolling crazy. But it feels as if the movie's primary aim is to impress the audience with graphic violence (and sex) and it just built a story around it—finding an opportunity to shoot a guy in the head point blank and pull the trigger at children (yes, kids. And this is rated PG-13? Seriously?) and rain the movie with cuss words, 1 in every 3 seconds.

Old-timer Manong Ben (Alvin Anson) and the comically macabre Morris (Aljur Abrenica) hit the road to accomplish their assignments as Gov's henchmen. The gray-haired and sad Manong Ben works perfunctorily. He shoots men with a Silencer and moves on to the next house, like ticking off a shopping list; no frills, no drama—just mechanically killing the prey that ruffled Gov's feathers. Deep inside, however, his aging, religious soul is starting to feel guilty about his job, and he is still imprisoned by an incident in his past.

Meanwhile, Manong Ben endures his deranged partner Morris, a trying-too-hard Abrenica, who makes Mang Ben and you suffer from his painfully forced evil laughs, ridiculous malevolent glares, and wicked smiles— they are so fake, so acting, so cartoonish, that such performance is only suited in a Bubble Gang skit. He's not scary, as the screenplay designed him to be. He is funny and irritating at the same time.

One scene shows Morris squeezing an entire bottle of ketchup on his breakfast rice meal. Then, in his best imitation of a Disney villain, he disgustingly mixes the condiment with his meal. I was waiting for him to take one—just one—spoonful of his crimson meal and swallow it so he can at that single moment look credible to me. But he just mixes and mixes his food and eventually abandons it. Really, it's hard to take his character seriously. Morris's behavior do not inspire fear, but rather amusement and sometimes embarrassment. That scene where he guns down two men at the beach, Morris shaking with pure pleasure, toxic with giddiness, and spelling out at the night that killing makes him feel like God (as if we did not get that before), you look down with sheer embarrassment.

Alvin Anson, who was awarded Sinag Maynila's Best Actor, is expressive and soulful, comfortable and effortless in his role, but because his character is underdeveloped, you cannot sympathize with Manong Ben. The only thing that connects us with him is his frustration with Motormouth Morris. When he screams at him to shut up, calling him "baliw!," we feel Manong Ben's disgust.

There are inconsistent details on the screenplay; Manong Ben's mantra is to employ a clean kill. Never leave a mess. Or a trail. Yet he spares a friend just because he whimpered and begged? He is also grossed out by the repugnant nut-job Morris, yet he encourages him to come with him and join him in his metanoia. But even he can surely detect that three seconds with Morris will already tell you that he's a hopeless case?

The cinematography is interesting; making use of available light, mostly Christmas lights. A lot of shadow-and-light play, blinking lights, pleasure in a car wash, and some poorly shaky shots when they're on the move, speeding along the expressway. Bautista creates a clashing atmosphere of evil and a warm, melancholy holiday, oftentimes lacing it with Anson's personal anthem of "Silent Night." Yet despite these artistic gimmickry, there is no poetry. Just shallow images.

Expressway offers nothing substantial. When the theme of hardcore immorality is incorporated into a one-dimensional story, it is just plain indecent. When evil characters are superficial, or caricatures, they fail to provoke. When it's all violence, which includes violence against women and children, and providing no insight or thought-provoking social commentary, it's just plain sick.

The pool of blood spilling across the concrete floor disturbingly coming from a child, and perpetrated by a child, and Morris triumphing in the end, what does the movie want to tell you? Nothing. Expressway is just a disturbing exercise in vanity, screaming for attention. And yes, the ending is totally predictable.

0 out of 5 stars