I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Secuestro Express

tn_secuestroexpressI got an email recently from Ricardo S., who recommended I should see this new movie SECUESTRO EXPRESS which he said was very popular in his country of Venezuela and “We usually don’t give a shit about our own films here, because, they usually suck balls.” So I filed that title away in the back of my mind and remembered to rent it and now here is my review.

I should mention that when I say he emailed me “recently” what I mean is that the email is dated November 1st of 2005. But I mean, that’s late 2005, at least it wasn’t January of ’05. Cut me some slack. Anyway don’t ever say I don’t follow through.

In the U.S. most of our crime movies are fantasies, stories about relatable hitmen and high tech heist masterminds who only exist in an imaginary world inspired by old movies inspired by old pulp novels. Alot of times they have a hook to them like “wouldn’t it be funny if a hitman was forced to run a women’s shelter?” or “wouldn’t it be cool if they robbed a bank using stolen military drones?” or something. But back in the ’90s we had a wave of gangster movies including John Singleton’s BOYZ N THE HOOD and Albert and Alan Hughes’s MENACE II SOCIETY that came disguised as warnings of “shit is fucked up right now in South Central.” They would kind of dip into the exotic dangers and then end on a preachy note about “we gotta clean this up, people!” I mean, they were sincere, but they were also having a good time. They were entertainment with a little church at the end.

SECUESTRO EXPRESS kind of reminds me of that type of movie. Like CITY OF GOD and ELITE SQUAD for Brazil, this one is kind of telling us how fucked up shit is in the high crime parts of Venezuela. It’s telling us that the division between rich and poor is causing violent clashes. But at the same time it’s trying to be a cool crime movie.

mp_secuestroexpressIt’s also the opposite of the last kidnapping movie I watched, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED. That was about a pair of highly prepared professionals trying to carefully pull off a high stakes crime. This is just a group of reckless thugs picking out the couple they see getting into the nicest car outside a club. It all takes place over a couple of days as they drag the couple around to different filthy squats, torment them, get some drugs, bribe some cops, yell and point guns at each other, etc.

So The Kidnapping Express is similar to the Polar Express, except instead of a train full of children traveling to a magical land of Christmas it’s a van full of sweaty, drugged out hoods taking pills, threatening rape and firing guns at transvestite prostitutes on the sidewalk. And no Tom Hanks.

Actually a better translation of the title is Express Kidnapping, which is what they call this crime of kidnapping people for a couple hours for whatever hostage money they can scrounge up. It’s closer to a carjacking or a home invasion than the Lindbergh baby or something. It’s a convenient crime for criminals who don’t enjoy intricate planning, and in the movie they make it into kind of a hybrid crime where they drop the man off for a half hour to be raped by a dude in exchange for a bunch of coke. It’s a kidnapping/pimping/raping/drug-deal, so in that sense Secuestro Express is the KFC/Taco Bell Express of crime.

Although it starts out seeming pretty gritty and realistic, I’m guessing this is pretty exaggerated. It’s kind of funny actually, the crime is so bad here that when they make their hostage get money out of the ATM another thief doesn’t realize it and tries to stick him up. They actually shoot a guy to get their kidnapping victim back. You can’t re-kidnap, can you? Forced transferring of custody from one kidnapper to another? Also they get their car stolen.

And there’s a pretty far-fetched plot twist to increase the character conflict a little. It’s funny when the kidnappers start feeling bad for the girl and telling the guy how to treat her better. But some unlikely things happen. Before that the power of the story is that it’s not supposed to be unique. You’re not watching this because it’s some unusual crime like the Zodiac killer or something, you’re watching because this is a common occurrence, this is how shit goes down, supposedly.

Stylistically it’s pretty spazzy, with a whole bunch of show offy split screens, slo-mo, fast-mo, fish-eye-lenses, extreme closeups, POV shots, bulletish time and all that stuff. It has freeze frames telling their names and backgrounds as they’re introduced, to be like CITY OF GOD being like TRAINSPOTTING being like whatever they got that from. But the photography looks rawer and cheaper than most of the slick movies that use this stuff, so instead of seeming like some jerks not trusting my attention span it felt to me like some underdogs working hard to make their movie look like what the big boys do. It makes you realize how much those filmatistic techniques spread not just through Hollywood but all over the world, from country to country. I think they have enough control of it here that it works fine.

The movie has a weird connection to Robert Rodriguez. His at-that-time-wife Elizabeth Avellan was the executive producer, and his long time editor and MACHETE co-director Ethan Maniquis is the editor. So that got me thinking about Rodriguez making EL MARIACHI the way he did, how it would be easier and even cheaper to make now because he could shoot it and edit it digitally, but then he’d be tempted to throw in a bunch of unnecessary flash that could’ve killed it. The Avid Fart Syndrome, or AFS – because you can do anything now, you are less likely to restrain yourself to good taste. In the EL MARIACHI days I don’t think he was showing restraint, he was just basing his style on the limitations he had. In a way the less limitations we have the harder it is to do well.

Anyway, I got off topic there. I wouldn’t say this is as good as most of the movies I’ve compared it too, but it’s a solid movie with an interesting look into and expression from a part of the world I don’t know much about. Thanks Ricardo. Thanks Venezuela. I hope the crime and stuff has improved since then. I mean I know it’s only been less than six years, that’s not a long time at all, pretty short actually.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2011 at 1:51 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Secuestro Express”

  1. Knox Harrington

    July 21st, 2011 at 2:23 am

    Any word on when Elite Squad 2 sees the light of day? It’s probably my most anticipated sequel at the moment.

  2. I am happy to be informed about this movie.
    I’ve been thinking lately too of the benefits of limitations in making things like movies. I was reading about the new blu-ray version of DAS BOOT that just came out, and thinking about how inconvenient it must have been to shoot in a space that’s narrow enough in many places for only one person to fit through at a time. The way things are going, we might get to where you hold up your thumbs and fingers to make the little rectangle and it’s saved instantly in HD with preset filters and lense emulators that allow movies to be made with the absolute minimun of inconvenience. But it seems to me like that would lose something important about the tactile presence of having to move something big and heavy to get your shot. There’s something about limitations that involves more of your senses when it makes you have to put more physical effort into an action, and also it seems to help focus your attention. You seem to have a more concrete sense of what you need to do right, whereas sometimes having too many options can mean that you never can decide which one to take, or maybe you tend to think that BECAUSE there are so many options, you ought to use a whole lot of them, rather than focusing on only including what is necessary to complete your idea for the finished thing. For instance, I think in popular music now the ability that everyone has to record unlimited tracks on any song that they wany to and a myriad of tools to fix mistakes made in the performance has often made people record too many tracks and not focus on giving their best performance. The Beatles didn’t have even sixteen tracks until the Abbey Road record, and George Martin said that he thought that record was not as strong because of how they wanted to fill up the extra tracks because they were there rather than because they had these ideas that they couldn’t do otherwise. Sometimes technology seems to change our creative process not because some brilliant artist was dreaming of project that could not be completed without a new technology, but because somebody figured out a way to engineer it first, and then if changed how people approached certain forms. But then I guess sometimes it can be a real improvement too in that it can open up people’s vision of what it is possible to make in a good way, so I guess it depends on how you use it.

  3. Knox Harrington

    July 21st, 2011 at 7:14 am

    I always think of Lawrence of Arabia when the subject of how difficult making a movie can be comes up. Shooting in the desert is a nightmare (actually, doing anything in the desert is a nightmare). Continuity, setting up and sustaining a unit base, transport, catering, getting the stock to the lab, constantly fighting the elements… But they did it. With thousands of extras and 65mm cameras as big as fridges. And all the hard work payed off, because not a single thing in that film looks fake. That’s what I love about Lean’s approach to filmmaking. If the movie demanded a bridge getting blown up, he built a real bridge and he blew it the fuck up. I wish more films could go back to that way of thinking. More tough, practical problem solving, less shortcuts.

    I’d also love to see more films shot in 65mm. I think the last one that was completely shot on that format was Branagh’s Hamlet, but I know Malick shot quite a bit of The New World on 65mm, as did Nolan with some of The Dark Knight. It’s damn expensive, though. But not more expensive than a lot of the shitty CGI filmmakers keep getting away with these days.

  4. SirVincealotThere

    July 21st, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Knox Harrington +1

  5. Hughes BROTHERS, together. Not just Allen Hughes. Besides, if it were just one of them it would probably be Albert, not Allen.

  6. Oh, weird…that got fixed between when I wrote that and when I got internet again to post it…never mind.

  7. is BOYZ N THE HOOD really trying to have a good time? it’s been a while since i saw it, but i remember it as being sort of dour and preachy the whole way through (but still good). i mean some of the character interactions and stuff, especially in the first half, are fun and innocent and amusing, but i remember all of the violence as being unpleasant. just me? agreed on MENACE 2 SOCIETY, though.

  8. The Congolese crime movie Viva Riva! passed through here a couple months back. I bailed on it theatrically, but hopefully when it reaches home theater you’ll cover it.

    http://www.vivarivamovie.com/

    It kicked ass at The 7th African Movie Academy Awards.

  9. Sorry to be off topic again but there’s no way the Drive trailer is irrelevant to this community:

    http://www.ign.com/videos/2011/07/21/drive-red-band-trailer?show=HD

  10. Also off topic, but Edgar Wright just tweeted “I probably wasn’t supposed to see an extended fight scene from ‘Haywire’ in Hall H. But I did. I’ll call it. Best Fight Scene of 2012.” Good to hear.

  11. Glad you enjoyed it Vern, yeah sometimes it pushes the plot and the crimes on top of crimes, but you are right, that’s how it felt like for people here: “Hey that happenede to me!”. Actually a friend, my wife and I were victims of a sort of Excuestro Express about three years ago, luckily they only wanted my car, and our money and our cell phones, and only lasted about half an hour, they drove us around threatening us at gunpoint and then dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and no one got hurt. I’m sorry to report the crime situation has not improved, it has gotten much much worse. Not for the rich but for everyone. Only 2 movies since then have achieved a similiar buzz here in Venezuela, Hermano (which stinks) and Hora Cero (which I haven’t seen). If anything else worthwhile comes from here I’ll let you know.

  12. billydeethrilliams

    July 22nd, 2011 at 6:35 am

    Drive looks great, the kind of film that’ll give this year the shot in the ass it needs.

  13. DRIVE could be good, but why cast such a bland guy in such a bad ass role. he may surprise me. But I can´t remember seeing Ryan Gosling ( is it right?) in anything. So we´ll see.

  14. Yeah, DRIVE looks seriously interesting. And man, when Albert Brooks appeared in that trailer, I thought it was Michael Rooker!
    I don’t get Ryan Gosling either. Everybody says he is great and I’m sure I saw him in a movie or two, but if I did, he never left an impression with me.
    About casting him in that role: I’m sure it’s one of those “average guy pushed to the limit” movies, that just wouldn’t work with someone like Danny Trejo in the role.

  15. billydeethrilliams

    July 22nd, 2011 at 8:10 am

    I’ve seen Gosling in several movies and he’s a pretty good. Hopefully this will be similar to I Saw the Devil, with a pretty-boy who can pull off being a convincing badass.

  16. But I guess it´s nice to see a fresh face playing a profesional driver. Jason Statham has been pretty much been typecasted (TRANSPORTER 1-3, DEATH RACE)…oh man DEATH RACE was awesome….

  17. DRIVE sounds exactly up my alley but I disliked PUSHER so much that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch any of the director’s other movies. It was a movie that I could admire in theory but couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to make it or watch it. Has he lightened up at all?

  18. Hmm… he directed BRONSON ( which I haven´t seen) but I can´t remember seeing more movies of that danish guy since PUSHER and I honestly don´t really remember what i thought of it either. That is not impressive….

  19. If you want to know why Ryan Gosling is great, watch THE BELIEVER. It’s somewhat reminiscent of AMERICAN HISTORY X and, yes, his performance is just as good and intense as Norton’s was. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I saw that one.

  20. Thanks for the tip , Jake.

  21. Gosling was really good in HALF-NELSON and LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. He’s real good at minimalism which makes him perfect for that kind of badass hero type.

    I am excited for this film.

  22. Pusher I is naturalistic, minimalistic, almost like a crime documentary. But, if you keep going with the trilogy, you get to see Refn’s style evolve. Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death is the best in the series. And it’s a fucking great movie.

  23. For me , I look at the person and say;Shit that guy has been around! He doesn´t take shit from anyone. You know, like Bronson,McQueen,Eastwood,Trejo and soforth.
    This guy…I don´t know.. he looks straight out of the kindergarten.

    Badassness has to be earned. And it takes years and a chiseled face to achieve it. Because the face sells that the guy has had his share of experience and been through a lot. Most guys these days just come across as cocky douchebags and nothing else. I just don´t believe them as much as a guy who looks experienced and seem to know his shit by now.

  24. Mr. Majestyk:

    Have you checked out VAHALLA RISING? It’s pretty good shit, maybe a bit abstract but I dug it. PUSHER was hard for me to get through, but I really liked the second one, haven’t sit down with the third yet. BRONSON shows Refin has a sense of humor, I think. At least parts of it seemed to be intentional comedy. I think he’s a pretty interesting director, almost like a different version of Soderburgh, because you never really know how he’s gonna approach a story.

  25. Refn clearly has a sense of humor, but he’s Scandinavian, so it’s a dark humor. All his films have moments that make me laugh. I want to make sure it’s known that Pusher 1 was independently made by Refn as his first feature in his mid-20s. So it’s like his My Best Friend’s Birthday or El Mariachi, etc., and really shouldn’t be used as the film by which to measure his full talents. You can say harsh things about the movie, but, you know, maybe see his other films first.

  26. YES! Some kind of appreciation for Nicolas Winding Refn!!!

    It’s funny, I’m about halfway through “Valhalla Rising” and I was thinking about mailing Vern to put this one on his reviewing radar. I haven’t seen all of it, but the ominous tone and the way it builds up… excuse me for using the Great One’s name in vain – but it’s goddamn Kubrick-ian.

    So, the verdict is still out on that one, but the “Pusher” trilogy was some pretty excellent film-making in my opinion. I know Vern wasn’t totally sold on it, but I thought “Bronson” was pretty special too, although alot of that can be attributed to Tom Hardy I guess. That said, Vern – you’re doing a disservice to yourself if you haven’t seen the “Pusher” films.
    They’re pretty damned good.

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