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Not a laughing matter

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By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

I MISSED the first few minutes of The Mall, The Merrier, the first team-up of noontime show hosts and actors Vice Ganda and Anne Curtis-Smith. After sitting through it for two hours, I wish I had missed a larger part of it.

Vice Ganda has defended the role of a good laugh in cinema. In a press conference for the movie earlier this month, he said, “Comedy is a genre. It’s a legit genre. It’s as special as drama, adventure, action. Hindi ko lang maintindihan kung bakit parang ang baba ng tingin ng tao sa comedy, na hindi siya kasing-antas ng drama. Sa Pilipinas lang siguro (I don’t understand why it seems that people look down on comedy, as if it was not at par with drama. I guess that is just in the Philippines).” I understand the sentiment, but maybe that’s a thought reserved for good comedy. I’m not being a snob here: I admit that I actually find Vice Ganda funny sometimes, and I sometimes find myself laughing at some of Vice Ganda’s earlier work. Not so much in this movie, where I chuckled at most, five times, and my belly hardly even rolled, let alone ached.

The movie’s premise was promising: a pair of estranged siblings played by Vice Ganda and Anne Curtis-Smith (named Moira and Morrissette in the movie; a reference to two current Filipino pop stars) inherit a failing mall owned by their similarly estranged parents, played by Jameson Blake and Elisse Joson in old-face makeup. The siblings, in the trailer, compete for ownership of the mall — this alone would have been funny by itself. But then, another estranged relative (what is wrong with this family?), an aunt named Tita Moody (played by Dimples Romana) seeks a magical spellbook that will allow her to — get this — take over the world. The spellbook gives one a spell to animate photographs and statues (which extends to dolls and lucky cats), a power that Vice Ganda accidentally uses. In a plot a la Night at the Museum, the mall’s decor comes to life (what that says about what our nation considers a cultural landmark is up to you), and places the cast in danger. That part of the plot does not add a sizzle, but rather a messy explosion.

There was a lot to process in the movie: there are the frequent jokes about Anne Curtis-Smith’s Australian heritage (told through an exaggerated Australian accent), the numerous pop culture references, jokes thrown here and there, and then the sexy guys (Tony Labrusca, playing a love interest of Vice Ganda, looked really pretty here, and there’s a group of male models magically animated from a poster). Then there’s the factor of fashion — Curtis-Smith and Vice Ganda go head to head when it comes to flamboyant costuming, and Curtis-Smith’s good looks are displayed to the hilt thanks to what I could guess was Chanel, and at least two runway outfits from Filipino designers. Those are the visual good points I can see in the movie. Otherwise, the CGI is bad, the dimly lit mall isn’t very attractive (a friend says it was shot in a property near Coastal Road, but I can’t say for sure), and the camera work was staid.

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I’ve mentioned the pop culture references, and there are a lot, and I would type that in capital letters if I could. The movie takes advantage of numerous cameos: I counted Regine Velasquez, Enrique Gil, Susan Africa, and mother-and-daughter tandem Ruffa Gutierrez and Annabelle Rama (because someone finally made the Annabelle Rama and Annabelle horror franchise connection). Every cameo is a chance to poke fun at the actors and even the networks (which in hindsight, is great, because laughing at big business can be funny). Nothing is sacred for Vice Ganda: not Charo Santos-Concio’s executive position, not the ABS-CBN and GMA network rivalry, nor the mother-daughter relationship of Ruffa and Annabelle, as told in the tabloids. As for the throwaway pop culture references: Dimples Romana plays her toxic relative role as she does in the telenovela Kadenang Ginto, and Susan Africa pokes fun at her history of playing respiratorily-ill mothers. There are even jokes about the very public Barretto brawl — but there were many other references I may have missed. There’s also an understanding that the jokes won’t translate well into English: the subtitles don’t always match the dialogue, and that’s not a very pleasurable experience when you’re bilingual like most Filipinos. On a less cheerful note, I was sure I spotted a Hitler joke, and the animated Lapu-Lapu becoming an IP caricature, and then one sees when irreverence toes the line to ignorance. No matter, I stopped laughing long before those scenes.

The references are cute, and might elicit a smile or two, but pop culture references shouldn’t, and couldn’t, prop up a two-hour comedy. If I had wanted to laugh at stars for two hours, I could have stayed home to watch showbiz news clips. If one wants to enjoy this movie, you’ll need more than an iota of understanding about Philippine showbiz, and that’s only to get the jokes — laughing at them is a different matter.

MTRCB Rating: PG

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