Resiklo (Mark Reyes, 2007)
English Title: Recycle
Mark Reyes' Resiklo (Recycle) is set in the near future, where Earth will be dominated by invading aliens (the film's computer manufactured prologue begins with a space-bound asteroid breaking apart to reveal a triangular shaped aircraft, supposedly carrying the evil invaders out to wreak havoc on planet Earth). The remnants of the human race will spend years evading death, capture or being transformed into pale and emotionless minions (referred to as Mutanos, probably derived from "mutant"). In the Philippines particularly, the survivors of the invasion found a walled and hidden community called Paraiso (Tagalog for "Paradise"), thriving in the midst of depletion of natural resources and constant threats from the roving Mutanos (out to collect humans to accomplish their so-called quotas) by foraging for food and recycling materials for further use.
It sounds like a compelling scenario for what could have been a good science fiction movie, something Philippine cinema has been deprived of, unless you count Lav Diaz's poetic sojourn into the hauntingly familiar near-future in Hesus Rebolusyonaryo (Hesus the Revolutionary, 2002). Several foreign films have successfully exploited the idea of a future where the theme of survival against a grave scarcity of resources resounds (like George Miller's Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2 (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), or L. Q. Jones' A Boy and His Dog (1975), a low-budget post-apocalyptic and trippy journey of a man and his telepathic dog). Unfortunately, Resiklo has none of the innovativeness or the overt campiness both Miller and Jones infused to their films, nor does it require the prerequisite contemplation Diaz demands of his audience. What director Mark Reyes sought to achieve is idiotically simple: to sustain the audience for one and a half hours with what essentially is an utterly mindless exercise of visual and aural spectacle passing off as cinematic art. Even with that very shallow goal, he barely succeeds.
Resiklo is one expensive spectacle. Millions of pesos, well above the normal budget of a local mainstream movie (but still a fraction of the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster) were spent on post-production and special effects. The results of the hefty investment are apparent as Resiklo is riddled with special effects-heavy sequences (including the already mentioned prologue, a fight off between a robot and an alien, a battle scene featuring robots and aliens; the effects are not really at par with current Hollywood standards, but is a step forward in local cinema) and features state-of-the-art sound mixing. Unfortunately, jazzing up lifelessly directed scenes featuring soullessly portrayed characters eschewing badly written lines with computer-generated visuals and eardrum-pumping sound effects is not the panacea for bad cinema. Sure, Hollywood may have ignited an illusion that digital effects can pass off as great cinema and it seems that local mainstream studios are trying to apply that that illusion, substituting traditional directing and storytelling methods with an influx of cheaply-rendered special effects thus producing recent junk of varying degrees like this film, Mulawin: The Movie (Mark Reyes & Dominic Zapata, 2005), the entire Enteng Kabisote franchise (Tony Reyes, 2004-2007), Super Noypi (Quark Henares, 2006), and Exodus: Tales From the Enchanted Kingdom (Erik Matti, 2005), all of which were entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival.
Then there are those gems that surprisingly emerge from the Hollywood imposed illusion of special effects as barometer for cinematic excellence. Erik Matti's Gagamboy (Spider-Boy, 2004), for example, is a studio-financed effects-laden spectacle with Matti creating a living and breathing slum city in an ordinary sound studio. Underneath the eye candy however is a hilarious parody on Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies; the film nevertheless tangentially comments and pokes fun on the Filipinos' incurable fascination with Hollywood. Instead of merely entertaining and aping Hollywood, Matti crafted something more worthwhile: a deliciously entertaining satire.
Resiklo, on the other hand, took itself too seriously, stealing from a multitude of Hollywood flicks (mostly from Michael Bay's Bad Boys 2 (2003) and Transformers (2007) and George Lucas' Star Wars franchise, among many others (I had more fun pointing out which movie Reyes stole from, than actually watching the movie). I was actually surprised that Reyes took sole writing and directing credits, when all he did was stitch together a story that utilized the various styles he can imitate from recent Hollywood imports. It's one truly promising concept, that of Filipinos crafting Japanese type mecha from what essentially are junk materials (something which is very likely, considering the Filipinos' knack of turning garbage into functional items), is wasted by simply turning it into an opportunity to show off the expensive special effects.
Resiklo is buried in its own self-importance. There's a nauseating hodgepodge of virtues the movie wants to instill in its viewers: unity, the importance of family, nationalism, environmentalism, camaraderie and a healthy dose of Yuletide cheers (yes, we are entreated to an entire sequence that felt like it was plucked from a television Christmas commercial, complete with a lethally syrupy jingle). Aside from that, the movie also desperately tries to reach the younger (perhaps middle-class) audience by incorporating extreme sports and hobbies (a chase sequence features biking and skateboarding, with the characters donning Airsoft uniform). Resiklo wants to be at par with Hollywood; it wants to be the harbinger of Filipino virtues (as well as the proper vanity project of its main star, Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr.); it wants to be the it-movie that can reach out to both the masses and the snotty middle class; it wants to be properly entertaining but without sacrificing its moral core. Resiklo wants to be so many things but only ends up being a yawn-inducing bore.
This review is also published in The Oblation.