'Cavite': Cheap Thrills

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Cavite" uses Hollywood high concept and low-budget filmmaking to spin a gruesome kidnapping drama in which a Filipino American finds himself racing through the back streets of Manila to save his family. It works for a time.

When Adam (Ian Gamazon, also a co-director) arrives in the Philippines to visit his family, a ringing cellphone in his bag welcomes him into hell. The voice at the other end, an Islamic radical leader, claims to have captured his mother and sister and orders him to follow his commands if he wants to see them alive.

Adam finds himself running through squatter camps and alleys, making a hefty cash withdrawal at a local bank and then traversing the socioeconomic misery all over again. Clearly, the rebel leader -- who berates Adam for his rudimentary Tagalog and failure to visit Mecca -- wants to give Adam (a casual Muslim) a religious reawakening.

"Cavite," also directed by Neill dela Llana (see Film Notes on Page 38), tackles a timely issue: cultural and religious identity in a world increasingly polarized by holy war. Its central situation -- the potential execution of Adam's family -- is engaging. But though the movie, made for $7,000, can claim the romantic mantle of "guerrilla filmmaking," its herky-jerky camcorder style, jump-cut editing and sustained takes soon wear out their welcome. And dramatically, it's not always convincing. A phone conversation between Adam (a less than persuasive performer) and his girlfriend is the stuff of student filmmaking. And there's no explanation for the rebel leader's omniscient ability to see Adam in every dusty corner of the Philippines.

-- Desson Thomson

Cavite Unrated, 80 minutes Contains profanity, violence and overall intensity. In English and Tagalog with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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