J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Contemporary Philippine Cinema at MoMA: Expressway

If you thought it was Grinchy when terrorists took over Nakatomi Plaza during the annual holiday party in Die Hard, wait till you see how these two hitman spend their yuletide. It will be a sweaty, noir Christmas in Ato Bautista’s Expressway (trailer here), which screens during MoMA’s new film series, A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema.

In the murky twilight world Ben and Morris inhabit, it is difficult to tell the difference between the government and organized crime. They are assassins who work for the “Colonel,” rubbing out honest cops and especially dishonest crooks, who think they can get away with skimming a little off the top. The world-weary Ben is sick of this line of work, but the young, sadistic Morris quite enjoys it. The former intends to retire after completing their latest batch of jobs, but these assignments will be particularly messy, in a soul-killing kind of way.

The fact that the aggressively talkative Morris never shuts up further sets Ben on edge, but that is rather the idea. As they pursue their bloody business, it becomes clear the two men share a secret connection. Ben also happens to know their final target, so small world, isn’t it?

Hardboiled crime just doesn’t get much darker than Expressway. It is a lethally efficient hitman anti-buddy movie that proudly proclaims its Tarantino influences with a visual hat-tip that should have fans howling in their seats, like a pack of wild dingoes. However, sensitive viewers should be warned the third act is amorally mean even by genre standards.

Regardless, Alvin Anson and Aljur Abrenica give tour de force performances as the stylistic opposites. Anson’s brooding Ben looks like a walking existential crisis, whereas Abrenica’s Morris is so aggressively obnoxious (intentionally so), viewers will be begging Ben to kill him after the first twenty minutes. Sparks fly as they play off each other.

Bautista’s execution is super slick and ominously warped. He keeps every second taut to the breaking point. If you enjoy shadowy underworld thrillers rife with revenge and betrayal than this is your catnip. Highly recommended for genre fans, Expressway screens this Friday (6/2) and Wednesday the 21st at MoMA, as part of their upcoming Philippine film series.

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