"Half the world is hungry, the other half obese. There are two options. Kill the monster or invite him to dinner" (Secuestro Express)
If I had to describe Jonathan Jakubowicz latest film Secuestro Express in only two words they would most certainly be edgy and iniquitous. Set amongst the slums and backstreets of the Venezuelan capital Caracas Secuestro Express aims to provide an insightful look at a society on the downsprial of self-degradation and extreme social unrest. But how far can a film like Secuestro Express go without being utterly exploitative…
In the wee hours of a beautiful Caracas night Carla (Mia Maestro) and her soon-to-be-husband Martin (Jean Paul Leroux) are getting out of a posh night club. Back in their flashy Jeep the two decide to hit a line of coke and "unwind". Shortly after the unsuspecting duo is followed by a group of street hustlers and kidnapped after a quick but pointless scuffle. What follows up is a mindless orgy of hard drugs, a wild roller-coaster chase through the streets of Caracas, a surprising gay "revelation", lots of macho-acting, and plenty of sex innuendos complimented with a few dead bodies.
Let me say it right off the bat…this film had me spinning uncomfortably in my chair while trying to figure out if I should take its message seriously or ignore it as yet another attempt in provocative originality. Despite of its flashy look and often reminding of Michael Bay zoom-cut-zoom again camera work Secuestro Express has the tendency of scratching where it doesn't itch. The revolutionary overtones which the film willingly offers are indeed something one should ponder and as far as I can tell the social climate in Venezuela is something government officials should be concerned with.
The foundation for Secuestro Express is simple. Inspired by the extremely popular in Venezuela express kidnappings (hence the slang Secuestro Express) where a person is being kidnapped and released in a manner of hours for a small amount of money the film offers a disturbing view at a society in a state of anarchy. I am afraid however that first time director Jonathan Jakubowicz has created a powerful mix which I think will send the wrong message to those unfamiliar with the current conditions in his native Venezuela. The anger which this film is infused with is impressively masked with a flashy camera work, trendy Latin hip-hop tunes, and a degree of violence which beats Fernando Meirelles' City of God by a mile. Certainly such a street appeal might create the impression that all of what we see in Secuestro Express is more cool and hip than sad and disturbing. On a top of everything else to complicate matters even more there is a ton of black humor in Secuestro Express which Quentin Tarantino might want to look at if he ever feels the urge to get back to his more edgy days!!
However, if you choose to ignore Jonathan Jakubowicz's social revelations provided in the extras department to this DVD and see Secuestro Express as nothing more but a black comedy with a steady dose of violence this film should meet and exceed just about any criteria you might have come up with. Perverted cops, street cripples (including a most disturbing image of a man without his legs riding a skateboard), tons of graphic drug use, simulated sex, HIV threats…you name it Secuestro Express has it…and so you have been warned!!
Secuestro Express was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the British Independent Film Awards (2005).
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's the DVD looks quite well. In fact, I am having a hard time knowing for sure how this film was composed and what was the intended look for it. Often times the image is grainy and then we see an excellent degree of contrast complimented with strong colors which leaves the impression that this is how the director wanted Secuestro Express to look. Certainly I have no complains whatsoever regarding the print provided by Miramax.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Dolby Digital Spanish track and optional yellow English subtitles the DVD certainly retains the intended "street-look". I certainly have little to write about as the presentation appears to be of satisfactory quality.
In an unlikely for Miramax manner Secuestro Express offers plenty of extras:
Two Theatrical Trailers- both trailers appear to have been designated for US distribution
Two deleted Scenes- two rather short scenes which do not appear crucial to the main story. The first one is titled "kidnap forshadow" and the second one "kidnaping old people". Both of those scenes offer more comedy material than reveal a different apsect of the main characters' peronalities.
Music Video: "Guajira" performed by Vagos Y Maleantes- As the members of this extremely popular Latin Hip-Hop formation also appear as the main actors in Secuestro Express the inclussion of this video is a great addition. To compliment the strange aura of this film the video is also quite a bit extravagant. Thumbs up to Miramax for including it!!
"Secuestro Express"- The Film and the Facts- A great piece of extra material revealing the true story behind Secuestro Express, the manner in which the film was directed, and the trouble with shooting at locations heavily populated by rivaling gangs. As the director of the film reveals Sequestro Express was originally intened to be a short film of no more than 30 min. As more and more footage became available (as well as funding) Secuestro Express developed into a full-length motion picture. If for nothing else see this featurette for the risky locations and disturbing images of the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
The Making of Secuestro Express (Featurette)- Together with the extra mentioned above this little featurette tells a lot about Venezuela and the political climate which inspired Secuestro Express. With a collage of interviews and footage from the shooting of the film we are given a behind the look featurette which is as revealing as it is informative about the almost impossible task of shooting films in Venezuela. As the the director points out funding is almost always an issue.
Two commentaries- One by director Jonathan Jakubowicz and a second one entirely in Spanish with English subtitles with Jonathan Jakubowicz, and actors Carlos Julio Molina, Pedro Perez, Carlo Madera, and Jean Paul Leroux- Perhaps the two most important extras provided on this DVD are the two commentaries mentioned above. I am unsure whether or not Secuestro Express is available on DVD in its native Venezuela but I assume that the first commentary recorded entirely in English by the director of the film is to be found only on this R1 release. Both commentaries focus on the heavy social overtones found in this film and the desperate situation in Venezuela and its capital Caracas in particular. I urge you to go through the second commentary where both the actors and the director talk about the huge resonance the film had in their native land. This is also a good opportunity to learn more and see beyond the dark jokes and hip violence which Secuestro Express is filled with. I am not quite so sure what impact the film had with the newly elected president Chavez but hearing the harsh criticism which both the actors and the director seem to deliver with this revealing commentary makes me want to dig a bit deeper. Indeed, Miramax are to be commended for the inclusion of the two commentaries.
Delivering a knockout punch where it most hurts Secuestro Express is both intimidating and entertaining. Unfortunately, the intended cool look and street vibes oozing from just about every single scene will diminish this film to a cult favorite amongst those with a pathological hunger for degrading violence. And I am certainly not planning a trip to Caracas any time soon!! RECOMMENDED.