With jumpy digital video cutting reminiscent of 28 Days Later and visual and narrative stylings recalling Baz Luhrman (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), Secuestro Express is a speeding train of an action movie. Shot on location in Caracas, Venezuela, publicity for the film promotes the hyperreal grittiness of contemporary urban life in South America where the brisk trade in kidnapping rich folks (“express kidnappings”) has become shockingly commonplace. Cinematically stylized in the idiom of Goodfellas as little more than a common “business practice” on a par with pimping or drug dealing, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz suggests “express kidnappings” are a sexier, more thrilling variant of the Robin Hood approach to wealth redistribution.
Jakubowicz is very young, only 26, a native of Caracas, and has taken to serious movie-making as if born to it. Marshaling an ensemble of high-energy, all-star Latin American actors and mixing it up with the visual language of current international hip hop, Jakubowicz and company showcase with Secuestro Express the arrival on anglophonic American shores of a tidal wave of innovative Latin American film-making.
Secuestro Express merges postmodern self-irony with hip-hop insouciance to explore the profoundly traumatizing effects of kidnapping. The film addresses the realities of economic and political inequalities: extreme poverty, rampant police corruption, political impotence, and their distorting effects on the human spirit, head-on. Tarantino-like deadpan slapstick mixes with Lurhmanesque starry-eyed romanticism. The in-your-face moral bankruptcy of a failing (global) socioeconomic system may be confronted fruitfully by means of ironic deflection. The serious core of this film, the examination of the causes and effects of kidnapping, plays out as a series of thrusts and parries – how to be “cool” by “not caring.” The characters all embody redemptive qualities, each discovering how far their pride can reach, knowing when they cross the line from “cool” to “monstrous” hatred. The fun of the film is that, in the end, redemption lies not in the stars, but in the narrative construct.
Rich, high-maintenance playboy Martin (Jean Paul Leroux) and fiancee Carla (Mia Maestro) run out of drugs while partying the night away. Heading out to score more stuff, they cross paths with a trio of small-time thugs from the Caracas ghetto, Trece (Carlos Molina), Budu (Pedro Perez) and Niga (Carlson Madera). Various complications and background subplots unfold in Shakespearean fashion, as the fivesome careen through a highly volatile landscape.
Ordered to pump an ATM for quick cash, Martin is jumped by another petty thief, who proves not to have the sense to get out of the way. Gay drug overlord Marcelo (Ermahn Ospina) turns more than one table, when the party of five shows up looking to score. Carla’s father Sergio (Ruben Blades) mostly shleps around, trophy international movie star cameoing as the long-suffering, loving yet put-upon father willing to part with cash, but not too much, to redeem his daughter. (The original sum demanded, roughly $20,000, a small amount for the super rich, represents about five years’ minimum wage in Venezuela.) As a running gag, the gang teases their leader, Trece, that he is no Leonardo DiCaprio (as in Romeo + Juliet), but maybe, just maybe, he is. Like a video game or Paul Haggis’ Crash, the side plots keep folding back into the main story.
In the post-9/11, global-village age of terrorism, Jakubowicz offers up a youthful bohemian’s vision for life as the other 90% live it in the new urban cultures. In Secuestro Express, what everyone wants, no one gets, and very few give – some respect, a good heart, innocence (or the naive values of a rapidly dwindling middle-class). It describes what shapes the forms of hatred at work today. With half the world dying of hunger and the other half dying from obesity, Jakubowicz is asking pointedly: How do we respond to the monster kicking down our door, kidnapping our dignity and our soul? Is this cosmic battle comedy or tragedy? More will be revealed.