Looking for a female-led action film with too much gory fight scenes? Want to watch that storyline set amidst a police procedural? Interested in a color that package with a “war on drugs” politics? Then go open Netflix right now and watch BuyBust.
Set in the urban poor slums of Metro Manila, this 2018 Philippine-made action film delivers highly on those elements mentioned above. It’s led by popular actress Anne Curtis, she who has nearly 12 million followers on Twitter, rivaling young Hollywood stalwarts.
Playing the role of a drug enforcement agent named Nina Manigan, Curtis had to train very hard in army combat and weapons handling to deliver mean punches and kicks in this film.
This much-ballyhooed training of hers was highlighted before the film’s release, of course. It gave her fans a new thing to munch on Anne the Action Star. But did she deliver? Well, that mainly depends on how you look at the film in whole.
The story finds Manigan’s character integrating with a new elite squad. But she marches to the beat of a different drummer, irking her commander who wants to be followed. Her off-kilter behavior is the direct result of a previous event revealed through back story snippets: that her former elite squad suffered from a sting operation that set them up.
As the lone survivor of that squad, she carried the weight of their loss on her shoulders, hindering her from thinking clearly at first. But when she decides to focus, she latches on to this new squad of hers and defends them tooth and nail.
The story’s main action takes place in less than 24 hours. It opens with a top police officer and a detective interrogating a drug lord’s snitch. That top officer, Detective Alvarez, orders Manigan’s squad to bring the snitch and the other officer, Detective Dela Cruz, on a buy-bust operation. The objective: to capture and take down an elusive drug lord named Biggie Chen.
So that’s what buy-bust means. It’s a sting operation wherein the law enforcement people bring marked money and pretend to be customers buying contraband from the syndicate.
But since this is more than a garden variety sting operation, and they want to take down a top drug lord, they send in the elite anti-drug enforcement squad with high-powered weapons and high-tech communication gear to shadow their operatives.
Trouble starts when Manigan senses a mole within their group. She suspects Detective Dela Cruz, whom she feels was also responsible for setting up her squad before. Now, this is where the story takes a turn from the good cop versus evil guys plot towards a more complicated plot: finding the “baddest” of apples within the most rotten of barrels. In short, it’s to find if there is a traitor in their ranks who’s in cahoots with the drug lord and his men.
Acting on a hunch, Manigan senses this early on, but her squad leader doesn’t buy it at first. So the squad ends up tailing their snitch with the marked money, with Detective Dela Cruz pretending to be a new customer and tags along.
The drug dudes enter a cramped community full of rickety roofs, unfinished hollow block walls, plywood walls, and cardboard windows, improvised housing materials that urban poor communities consider as houses.
It’s a complicated maze full of colorful people and equally colorful ways of designing these shanties as homes. If you’re not an insider, it’s impossible to find your way out of this shanty maze.
Such was the primary dilemma by the squad. As it turns out, Manigan was right all along in suspecting Detective Dela Cruz, but she only overhears proof of a “Judas move” in their communications equipment. And she was also right in saying that the whole operation feels like a set-up. People were indeed waiting for them. Guess who: the whole community!
As it turns out, the community dwellers there are mostly sympathetic to the drug lord and his minions. So whatever police or law enforcement personnel enter there, they don’t come out alive. And this is what Manigan and her squad encounter: a throng of people who act like zombies attacking the squad in whatever way they could.
It’s highly disorganized, totally random, and equally chaotic. It’s everyone we’re talking about here – men, women and children alike, aiming for the anti-drug enforcement squad as if their life depended on it.
There are teenage boys shooting pistols, women wearing hijabs hacking or stabbing, senior citizens carrying wooden sticks, housewife-looking women attacking with lead pipes, what have you. Rambunctious is an understatement for this mayhem. You need a new word stronger than mayhem to describe what just happens to this squad within this community. Utter carnage.
It’s not for the weak at heart. If you don’t like slasher films, skip this one. Otherwise, relish at the fact that a woman’s head gets cut off, literally, by huge garden shears.
Someone gets axed on the chest, squarely and surely. Our heroine, Manigan, gets punched, stabbed, hit, thrown, elbowed, kneed, and kicked repeatedly. But hey, she still stands up amidst those bruises, blood, and grime on her being. And still fights! Hard!
At this point, it becomes clear that the filmmakers set out to make an action film that just has action, plain and simple, with little bits of story and even fewer bits of dialogue. If you count the lines spoken here, there are more shouting “Aaaah!” sounds heard from the attacking mob than great lines of dialogue here. And it’s a shame since the film employed some of the finest Filipino actors today.
For a film that’s a little over two hours long, the story suffers from being bloated and nonsensical. At first, the glossy cinematography, the intricate musical score, and sound design, plus the fine acting of the talents carried the first half-hour of this film, even 45 minutes. But beyond that, it’s just reminiscent of a zombie apocalypse film as the squad members get taken down one by one. Don’t look for depth in a very shallow story.
Is it a buy or a bust? From the way it looks, this one’s a bust!