BuyBust wears its intentions on its sleeve. As per its title, which refers to undercover operations set up to catch drug dealers, Erik Matti’s film focuses on the Philippine government’s war on drugs, specifically the effect rampant corruption and extrajudicial violence have on the country’s social structure. So it comes as a disappointment when that message gets buried under action sequence after action sequence.
Were the effect not so exhausting, I might be tempted to say that the inuring effect of the endless violence is intentional. But the fighting is so nonstop (and increasingly clear in its cribbing from films like The Raid and Oldboy) and deliriously choreographed that it feels like the film is trying to have it both ways, turning violence into a joyride even as it condemns it. Officers Manigan (played by Anne Curtis) and Rico (Brandon Vera) cut through swathes of gangsters and civilians alike in sequences that are essentially only distinguished by giant red timestamps that track the passage of one night’s buy-and-bust operation.
Though the film becomes a slog, it has a saving grace in Curtis and Vera’s performances, which serve as neat complements to each other in temperament as well as fighting styles. It’s also worth singling out Alex Calleja as the snitty gangster Teban, who offers a much-needed injection of comedy.
Directed by Erik Matti
Well GO USA
Opens August 10, AMC Empire 25
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 8, 2018