Morally and aesthetically bankrupt, Secuestro Express allows first-time director Jonathan Jakubowicz to exploit and sell out his Venezuelan culture; the film doesn’t function as art or social interrogation because it’s nothing more than a Hollywood calling card. Sloppily structured as a just-another-day-in-Caracas radio report about the kidnapping of a rich girl (Mia Mestro) and her boyfriend (Jean Paul Leroux) by three overzealous thugs, this unseemly creation confuses its borrowed film-school tics for urgency. From bad to worst: City of God-style freeze frames to introduce its characters (Budu is a painter, rapist, and sentimental father—how’s that for a paradox?—and Carla is a volunteer at a public clinic, natch); a Stedicam strapped to an actor’s chest for that queasy, I’m-having-a-really-bad-day effect (see Requiem for a Dream); and an absolutely absurd bullet-time shot in which the film’s kidnappers simply sit around a table and talk (no gun fire to dodge, no kung-fuing cows, simply three guys shooting the proverbial shit).
That’s not even a complete account of the film’s nonsensical visual exasperation—endless fast-motion shots and a medley of split-screens are either meant to augment or detract from Jakubowicz’s juvenile inspection of his country’s moral oblivion. The only thing he succeeds at is revealing his own. This third-world Man Bites Dog declares, “Every 60 minutes a person is abducted in Latin America. 70% of the victims do not survive.” You half expect to hear Law & Order‘s opening gavel sound as an accompaniment. It never comes, of course, because there’s no law and order in Jakubowicz’s world. The cops are as corrupt as the criminals they chase, but rather than study the roots and effects of this problem, the director trivializes it, seemingly using the not-so-black-and-white divide between police and criminals as an excuse to unleash a spectacle of sensationalist hurt against Carla (Maestro) and Martin (Leroux).
The film comes on strong—not in a docurealist fashion, but as a full-on assault to common sense and decency. Indeed, when the insufferable Budu, curiously obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio, talks about giving Carla HIV (really he means H20—same thing, right?), it’s as if he’s cracking wise for the audience. This isn’t filmmaking—it’s bad improv. And amid the non-stop beatings and threats of rape the couple is subjected to, Jakubowicz manages to insert a pat reduction of his country’s machismo and the inklings of a romance between Carla and one of the kidnappers. Forced to down two pills of ecstasy, Carla spuriously jives with her victimizer about the country’s rich/poor divide, and, made to have sex with the preening queen that supplies the kidnappers their cocaine (see Boogie Nights), Martin is forced out of the closet. These offensive scenarios succeed only in revealing that Jakubowicz’s abject homophobia and sexism—not to mention his contempt for his captive audience—far exceeds the crimes of the film’s kidnappers.