All of the ingredients are here for something special, but the end result is more than a little under-baked.
It’s not quite a sub-genre, but films about people (police or otherwise) having to fight their way through enemy territory are wickedly appealing. From The Warriors (1979) and Trespass (1992) to The Raid (2011) and Dredd (2012), it’s an irresistible premise and difficult to mess up — all it needs are compelling characters and thrilling action. Difficult to mess up… but not impossible.
Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) has just finished training as part of a police assault squad, and having lost her last team in a hail of gunfire she’s finding it hard to fit in this time around. There’s no time to complain, though, as the squad is chosen to take part in a late-night operation hoping to bring down crime boss Biggie Chen. She’s not keen on the man running the op, but knowing her career is on the line she follows him and the others deep into one of Manila’s maze-like slums. The mission quickly goes to hell, and with a traitor in their midst the squad is forced to fight their way out if they want to see another sunrise.
A quick glance at Erik Matti‘s latest Filipino thriller suggests a real treat for fans of action films with female leads, but as the opening minutes move forward through its 126 minute running time the truth comes clear. BuyBust is too long, too sloppy, and too underwhelming.
It’s a damn shame too as the elements that work do so extremely well. Curtis offers a charismatic lead performance that sees her shifting repeatedly between desperation, fear, and determination. Brandon Vera is equally captivating as Rico, her larger than life teammate who feels like a Filipino answer to Dave Bautista — big, powerful, and lovable.
A couple of the action beats excite too as characters run, climb, and fight through and over ramshackle shacks and barely stable structures. Rico gets a trio of highlights involving garden shears, a motorcycle, and a water trough, and Manigan almost keeps apace with a couple entertaining brawls.
The big problem, though, is that the action is surprisingly dull and repetitive. Fight-focused movies don’t need to go the stylish, highly-choreographed route of numerous martial arts features, as sometimes the pure energy of guttural brawling can be every bit as thrilling. The recent We Will Not Die Tonight succeeds on that front (with a similar plot too) with fights that feel desperate and painful. The fights here won’t impress in their choreography, but worse, they disappoint in their execution. The swings are slow, the contact is inconsistent, and the reactions are amateurish.
The action is especially unfortunate as there is *so much* of it. The film’s over two hours, and once the bust goes sideways the action kicks in and remains fairly consistent. It should be electrifying and draining with only brief pauses to catch our collective breaths, but instead (and aside from the highlights mentioned above) it’s just there.
Other issues rear their head, particularly in a script that despite its length feels as if it’s missing dialogue beats, but good action is the only thing an action film really needs to get right. Matti’s 2013 feature, On the Job, is a fantastic showcase for his skills as a filmmaker in both direction and writing, but here he appears to have gotten lost in the massive size of it all.
Trim half an hour from BuyBust‘s bloated first two acts and this is perfectly passable diversion. As it stands it’s worth a watch — a rent(bust) if you will — for genre fans who’ll enjoy the beats that work including an absolute killer final two minutes.