A good cook serves good food. A bad cook serves bad food. But a hesitant cook creates unsure dishes. The thing with cooking though, we still get to eat both the masterpieces and the mistakes. Just like movies. The soon-to-be certified blockbuster and latest starrer of Vice Ganda, (The Unkabogable) Praybeyt Benjamin, falls under the third category – the unsure dish. It’s as if the filmmakers do not understand the full of measure of its lead star’s talent. Vice Ganda is a star. He does not need cameo appearances. He does not need too much pop culture references. He does not need old and tiresome slapstick humor. I was looking forward to Praybeyt Benjamin because I wasn’t able to watch his debut film, Petrang Kabayo. Must have been the high expectations because I left wanting more. Not necessarily disappointed because Vice rarely disappoints. More of unsatisfied. Vice Ganda can do more with a solid material. Though I am not sure if this is the same sentiments of the large number of people who trooped to Trinoma last night. SOLD OUT signs flashed as its largest theater filled up to the rafters. Unkabogable.
Most local comedies look and sound like an extended gag show. A little bit of spoof here. A little bit of joke there. Here Comes the Bride is an exception to the rule. Kimmy Dora is an exception to the rule. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is an exception to the rule. Ang Tanging Ina is an exception to the rule. Now, Ang Tanging Ina is probably the best one from Wenn V. Deramas, who is also the man behind Praybeyt Benjamin. This makes me wonder why his recent movies are not at par with his best effort. He seems so sure with the Ai-Ai Delas hit then he kind of struggled afterwards. Ang Tanging Ina is a solid product for it seldom veered away from its material and received so much from its lead star. Nothing more could be asked from Vice but a lot from the narrative.
There is a feeling of hit and miss as the movie progressed. A fine example is the character of DJ Durano. He is a cadet-in-training with a Forrest Gump IQ. Some jokes hit (Durano: “Bakit kaya hindi tinawag ang pangalan ko? Jojit Lorenzo: “Ikaw iyong ‘Dominador Rosales.’”). Some missed (Durano: “Hindi naman pala ako low IQ. Slow lang.”). Another example is the use of special effects. I am not a big fan of special effects in comedies unless it’s effects-driven. Vice Ganda does not need tech-gizmos because his brand of humor is wit-driven. He is such a quick thinker that his barado jokes never fails. Never. (Carlos Agassi: “Bakit nandito pa ang mga abnormal na iyan?” Vice Ganda: “Kami abnormal? Baka ikaw. Kalalaki mong tao, laki ng dede mo.”) Even the overdrawn “hala” scene had people in stitches. Wouldn’t it be better to see more of his signature style that continues to drive Showtime at the top of the ratings game than, as I mentioned earlier, old and tiresome gags?
Praybeyt Benjamin deals with several issues in the Philippine society including our prevailing macho culture, our caveman treatment of homosexuals, possibilities of civil war and the global threat of terrorism. (Plus a visual presentation of the hotness that is DEREK RAMSAY! Those pecs. Those abs. Those chiseled features.)
All of it in one film.
Even the genius that is Vice cannot make it work. (I sincerely hope his follow-up project is a vast improvement from this one because it is so hard to hate Vice. Just like his twin sister Anne Curtis. 2011 IS THEIR YEAR. How can I hate them?)
One last point, at the start of the film, the audience was provided a backgrounder of the warrior heritage of Benjamin Santos VII. His ancestors fought alongside Lapu-Lapu (Lapu-Lapu: “Sugod mga kapatid!” Benjamin Santos: Kapamilya! Kapamilya!”); Andres Bonifacio (Andres Bonifacio: “Punitin natin ang ating mga cedula.” Santos: “Wala akong cedula.” Bonifacio: “Eh ano iyan?” Santos: “Ah eto. Listahan ko iyan ng taya sa jueteng. Tataya ba kayo?”); and even during the Second World War. I love historical spoofs! You know one of our faults? We tend to think of our heroes as monuments and our history as a boring list of dates and places. Philippine history is controversial, disappointing and unfair but it is NEVER BORING. How about a historical spoof that bites? Vice Ganda can sink his talented fangs on such a material and we can also look forward to sumptuous dish.