[MMFF 2014] ‘Praybeyt Benjamin 2' Review: Show me the money
Let's not mince words. The Metro Manila Film Festival is often all about money. Ever since Chito Roño's largely underappreciated Dekada '70 was snubbed during the 2002 MMFF awards ceremony, the festival has taken a gradual but inevitable tumble into unabashed, outright commercialism.
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- Review: 'Praybeyt Benjamin 2'
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Other pundits might argue that the snub was simply the nail in the proverbial coffin, but there's no disputing the fact that the MMFF has become more about box office returns than artistic recognition.
But let's not climb our ivory tower just yet. Movies cost money, tens of millions of pesos on the average for bigger films, and it would be grossly insensitive for anyone to begrudge local film studios the opportunity to maximize the most profitable season of the year. In this year's case, however, The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin 2 aims to milk the season for all its worth, and it seems it’s not ashamed to admit it.
Directed by Wenn V. Deramas, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 is the sequel to the original record-breaking hit from 2011. After grossing more than P300 million at the local box-office, it's surprising that it’s taken 3 years to come out with a sequel.
This time around, Private Benjamin "Benjie" Santos (Vice Ganda) has been promoted to colonel in the Philippine army and has made a name for himself as a modern day national hero. But when Benjie starts taking his reputation and his duties for granted, he is forced under the service of General Wilson Chua (Richard Yap) to try and thwart a terrorist plot to bomb areas around the Philippines. It just so happens that the only person who knows where the bombs are is a young boy named Bimby (Bimby Aquino).
Praybeyt Benjamin 2 makes no apologies for what it is – a brainless, hyperstylized and utterly ridiculous family comedy.
It is a film designed to do nothing more than delight casual moviegoers, and what it sets out to do, it does so with the candor of a mile-a-minute comedian – in this case, Vice Ganda.
A heavy dose of self-awareness
Praybeyt Benjamin 2 isn't so much a film as it is a stage show, a feature length sketch comedy that has gags instead of story beats. Every minute of screen time squeezes in as many pop culture spoofs as humanly possible and banks hard on Vice Ganda’s ability to make fun of everyone, including himself.
This all happens at the expense of a reasonable story, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Praybeyt Benjamin 2, especially when the film decides to call itself out on its own shortcomings.
Near the film’s halfway mark, co-star Alex Gonzaga provides a straightforward solution to solve the film’s terrorist threat. But Vice Ganda shoots Gonzaga’s suggestion down with a heavy dose of self-awareness.
"Kung gagawin natin yun, eh 'di wala na tayong pelikula!" (If we were to do that, we wouldn't have a movie!)
And that's where Praybeyt Benjamin 2 works. By dropping all dramatic pretenses and being exactly what it is meant to be, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 becomes the epitome of the straightforward, dumb-as-nails, family comedy.
There’s no disguising the fact that Praybeyt Benjamin 2 was produced for a particular kind of audience, the kind who laugh at Angel Locsin and Luis Manzano cameos, and those who enjoy poking fun at everything from Boom Panes, Princess Sarah to Plants Vs. Zombies. But it’s done all for the sake of comedy, all in the name of money.
The real punchline
For all intents and purposes, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 is a horrible film. It's the kind of movie that trades logic for punchlines and rational for gags. The film goes for cheap thrills and quick comic references, but pokes fun at itself at the same time. But this has more to do with Vice Ganda's ability to get away with comedic irreverence than it is about the film's own cinematic merits. The film is so absurd that it almost gets away with the occasional peddling of ABS-CBN services. Almost.
It is cheap, tacky and absolutely nonsensical. But say what you might about the film's level of intellectualism (or lack thereof), it is at least honest about its intentions.
Praybeyt Benjamin 2 is poised to take the number one spot at this year's holiday box office, much in the same way that the original did 3 years prior. And while this indisputably says as much about the local film industry as it does about the audiences that support it, it doesn't dispute the fact that the film’s success also says something about Filipinos as a whole, for better or worse.
Like a majority of Vice Ganda and Wenn Deramas films, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 is a reflection of what’s popular and a sign of what sells. And 50 years from now, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 will be among the countless family comedies that will say more about our culture than any historical document.
Money talks, and from the looks of things, Praybeyt Benjamin 2 is going to be controlling the conversation at least for the tail end of 2014. And what this says has more to do about what Filipinos find funny, than what we ought to find “good.” – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan