2 stars (out of four)
"Too much is not enough" was the motto of a fledging MTV in the 1980s. Irish rock stars U2 carried the philosophy into the next decade, whispering the phrase in the 1993 single "Numb."
Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz's "Secuestro Express" ("Kidnap Express") carries "too much is not enough" into the 21st Century. It's the guiding principal and visual mantra in an excessive movie about corruption and the kidnapping subculture in Venezuela.
"Alias" star Mia Maestro plays Carla, an upper-class volunteer at a medical clinic who becomes the victim of a kidnapping scheme with her drug-addled fiance, Martin (Jean Paul Leroux).
It's easy to see why Miramax picked up Jakubowicz's frenetic, gritty urban drama. The 26-year-old director knows his way around a camera; he's adept at building tension and crafting relentlessly violent sequences. But the the movie's seductively vile, jagged edge falls victim to Jakubowicz's kindergarten-level social commentary.
On the surface, "Secuestro Express" confronts class tensions in South America, as the have-nots pick rich kids off the street to hold for ransom. Jakubowicz doesn't go so far as to call this social justice; he's too smart a filmmaker for this. However, the film's closing voiceover identifies the excesses of capitalism as the monster that can either be fought or invited to dinner. He exploits the epidemic of kidnapping in Venezuela without offering solutions or insightonly sophomoric platitudes. Jakubowicz's talents as a filmmaker are many, but crafting an articulate, well-examined social theory isn't among them.
Jakubowicz does, however, have an army of powerful, magnetic actors at his disposal. While Carla isn't given much depth as the film paragon as good, she's surrounded by abundant evil.
In "Trainspotting"-style introductions, we meet Trece (Carlos Julio Molina), Budu (the frightening Pedro Perez) and Niga (Carlos Madera)a mix of murderers, rapists and drug dealers. These three provide the molten core of "Secuestro Express," thugs capable of anything. Only Trece seems to retain any shred of humanity, which is overplayed once it's established that even Venezuelan police are intractably corrupt.
Eventually, a sort of Stockholm syndrome sets in, as Carla begins to bond with Trece and even smokes pot with Budu. Jakubowicz is careful not to let her get too close, however, as she's alternately shown affection and brutalized.
Random savagery becomes the through-line in his debut film, to the point of cartoonishness.
While in the kidnappers' clutches, Martin attempts to get money from an ATMonly to be robbed by another criminal.
We're not entirely blindsided by such an irony, as it becomes over-the-top trope repeated right up until "Secuestro Express" takes its final noir turn.
Jakubowicz will undoubtedly become a filmmaker to follow, as soon as he understands what he wants to saynot just how loud he wants to say it.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz; photographed by David Chalker; art direction by Andres Zawisa; music by Angelo Milli; edited by Ethan Maniquis; produced by Sandra Condito, Jonathan Jakubowicz and Salomon Jakubowicz. In Spanish with English subtitles. A Miramax release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:26. MPAA rating: R (for strong violence, drug use, sexuality and language).
Carla - Mia Maestro
Carla's father - Ruben Blades
Trece - Carlos Julio Molina
Budu - Pedro Perez
Niga Sibilino - Carlos Madera
Martin - Jean Paul LerouxCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times