Brutal, immersive, and riotously entertaining, the Pinoy action thriller BuyBust will give action movie buffs a way to send their summer out on a high note. A female driven asskicker with a keen eye for details, the latest from filmmaker Erik Matti (On the Job) feels like a melding of The Raid’s high octane chaos and the observant, fluid techniques one might find in a Michael Mann inspired picture. It takes longer than necessary to get going, but once all hell breaks loose in BuyBust, the highly physical action never lets up for a moment.
Nani Manigan (Anne Curtis) works for an elite drug enforcement task force in The Philippines. She’s recently been transferred to a new unit after her previous squad was wiped out in a botched raid on a meth lab, leaving her as the sole survivor. She’s not endearing herself particularly well to her new partners-in-arms thanks to her overly cautious and reasoned point of view. Her first assignment with the new team is to take down a high profile kingpin that’s holed up in one of Manila’s nastiest slums. When the team’s snitch on the inside (Alex Calleja) is unable to lure the reclusive crime boss to an open location, they’re forced into a daring attempt to take the criminal into custody on his own turf. It’s easier said than done, and it’s not long before Nani finds herself in a similarly dire situation where she’ll have to fight alongside her fellow cops to get away from teeming swarms of henchmen and women who want all of them dead.
While it’s easily accessible to any filmgoers who like their action to be of the bone-snapping and blood-spurting variety, it should be noted that BuyBust has been made with a politically loaded message that elevates it somewhat above other similar knock-offs of The Raid. BuyBust is an action picture for the Duterte era. In a country where the “war on drugs” has already reached violent extremes, a film celebrating the tenacity of drug enforcement officers runs the risk of coming across as jingoistic. Given the Filipino president’s belief that all drug dealers should be wiped from the face of the earth by any means necessary, the last thing the country needs is a film that glorifies such a narrow, hard line stance. By the midway point, any fears that BuyBust would kowtow to its country’s political climate are erased, cleverly showcasing that such extreme measures can be prone to corrupt profiteering (something that’s making huge waves in the country at this very moment) and how it creates a culture where everyday citizens end up hating the cops as much as they hate the dealers. It’s the rare example of a guns blazing action extravaganza that has more on its mind than visceral thrills. Not much more, mind, but it still counts for something.
It’s also quietly revolutionary to see such a go-for-broke film told from a female perspective. Outside of some asides involving other capable members of the police squad, Nani remains the viewer’s eyes and ears throughout. She isn’t particularly well developed as a character, probably because director and co-writer Matti is more engrossed with the nuts and bolts machinations of the mission at hand. While the film suffers from an overall lack of character (but no shortage of plot), it’s commendable that Curtis is still able to turn in a credible and intensely physical leading performance. There aren’t many digs against her gender, and the teams of heroes and villains all have their fair share of women stepping up to do battle. In a genre that’s usually dominated with masculinity (and has been since the heyday of 1980s B-movies), it’s nice to see something as equitable in its action sequences as BuyBust.
The plot is pretty straightforward, stopping dead about thirty minutes in so Matti can get on with the lengthy portion of the film where the team fights to survive, but in those early moments the style employed hearkens back to the kind of crisp, but gritty digital cinema techniques that Michael Mann used in films like Miami Vice and Blackhat. If characters are talking about specific details, the camera remains at a distance. If there’s action occurring, the viewer is thrust into the middle of it. There are plenty of minor details to watch out for, and even amid all the chaos, Matti is able to direct around any potential plot holes. It’s tautly directed and tightly constructed, reaffirming Matti as one of the masters of genre cinema in Southeast Asia.
But that action remains the highlight here, and BuyBust never relents or disappoints. The fights are unglamorous and often realistically gritty, desperate affiars. The frequently close-quarter shootouts are harrowing. Large scale brawls with scads of baddies in muddy streets are like watching the prison yard fight from The Raid 2 played out in several different ways, while a climactic single take rooftop showdown between Nani and dozens of mercenaries is an effective showstopper. BuyBust also sets a personal record for the number of times I’ve seen people get repeatedly stabbed. There’s plenty of shooting, explosions, and punches, but I’ve never seen a film where people are stabbed or shanked as much as they are in BuyBust.
It isn’t an original idea to strand a team of law enforcement types and watch as they fight their way out of an increasingly deadly ambush, but BuyBust is so entertaining and well crafted that such unoriginality is easy to overlook. It has just enough going for it to feel fresh and vibrant instead of a polished retread of similar genre exercises. It’s effectively pulse quickening and brimming with wall-to-wall carnage. If that’s the kind of action flick you’re in the mood for, BuyBust will leave you more than satisfied.
BuyBust opens in Toronto at Canada Square and Coliseum Scarborough, in Oakville at Cineplex Winston Churchill, in Vancouver at International Village, in Winnipeg at Cineplex Northgate, and in Red Deer at Carnival Cinemas on Friday, August 10, 2018. It expands to the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa on Friday, August 24 and to Metro Cinemas in Edmonton on September 27.
Check out the trailer for BuyBust: