Movie Review: DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away is a Silly, Uneven Spoof Unworthy of Its Cast

TL;DR: This silly, slightly bawdy, spotty spoof of horror movies never gels into something special, but the cast makes it tolerable to watch.

Just taking a look at DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away’s plot gives off the impression that it’s needlessly complicated than it should be. And you’re absolutely right.

Carmel (Kim Chiu) & Jeje (Ryan Bang) are close childhood friends working as fake exorcists, tricking their clients into thinking they’ve driven away the evil spirits lurking in their homes; which is probably an unintentional swipe at the Warrens, whose supernatural claims are dubious at best. What really happens is the rest of their crew dresses up as ghosts & ghouls they supposedly dispelled from their client’s house, & show the footage to them afterwards. She wouldn’t be doing this if the supernatural powers she inherited from her grandmother has awakened within her. Carmel is only doing this to provide for her grandmother (Marissa Delgado) & her stepsister Serrah (Maymay Entrata).

They will need that money soon. If they don’t pay their overdue debt soon, they will be kicked out of their house. Luckily, a rich, handsome, talented man named Jack Colmenares (Enzo Pineda) asked Carmel’s help to purify his house for the exact amount of money they need. She agrees since it will help them get out of their financial mess, but Jerald is very skeptical of Jack. Carmel & most of their crew were unfazed by the danger – since they really need the money – so they decided to accept the deal & host another fake exorcism. But once they arrive, the phony horror they had set up is set aside for real horror, as they try to survive the vengeful spirits attacking them in the middle of the night.

But that’s not all! Jerald still hasn’t told Carmel that he loves her & Jack’s arrival puts Carmel at the center of a love triangle. There’s also the blossoming relationship between Serrah and her childhood friend Chire (Edward Barber).

This is par for the course with the work of Tony Y. Reyes; a prolific comedic director who blends elements of romance, action, or fantasy & using broad, vaudeville-inspired humor to tie everything together. He has frequently worked with longtime comedians Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, & Joey de Leon throughout his long, fruitful career – including the highly divisive Enteng Kabisote series – who shares the same sensibilities as the trio. He wants us to have fun & be entertained, giving us everything we want & using every opportunity to crack a joke.

Even without his usual collaborators, DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away fits nicely in his expansive oeuvre. It isn’t interested in creating a fruitful balance between comedy, horror, & romance & it shows in the broad, ramshackle plot allows it to make a ton of jokes, but the whole story doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole. In trying to to reach the widest audience possible, he ends up with a movie that is sloppy & inorganic, overstuffed with stories that end up being tangential to each other – even the ones that are supposed to be correlated – which dilutes the impact of some of the surprises the movie has in store.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the plots are strong on their own, but none of them rise above mediocrity; especially if it focuses on everyone’s romantic entanglements. The blossoming romance between Serrah & Chire is the weakest story of the bunch, because even if Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber gets a chance to throw a few zingers & show off their chemistry that exists, it’s disconnected fron the main plot that the movie drags whenever it focuses on their trials. Jerald’s unrequited love for Carmel & Jack’s role in the love triangle doesn’t go where it typically might have, but it undercuts it by the end.

Even the movie’s jokes are hit-or-miss. It is loud, obvious, & casually offensive, relying on bad puns, mean-spirited insults, & witless references rather than funny jokes. These are more apparent at the beginning, where the weak jokes combine with terrible exposition. Some of the jokes are dirty – as dirty one can be in a PG-rated film in the Philippines – & it revels in it with glee like a child who realized he can get away spouting swears & sexual references; which is oddly endearing. One notable example is Jack Colmenares* – say it aloud at least three times – whose name is repeated ad nauseum until it is sucked bone dry of any humor. At one point, the name is written on a whiteboard as “JACK COLmenares” for those who couldn’t get the joke.

It becomes more fun & interesting once Carmel, Jeje, & the rest of their crew set foot inside the haunted house, because the movies exerts more effort than it did before. It tries to mock or subvert horror movie tropes within Reyes’ sense of humor & it often succeeds, because it taps into a richer vein of material in order to further its own absurdity. It’s still hampered by its worst impulses – one example is a woman with long hair wearing a white dress who crawls out of the TV & gets stuck because she’s fat, get it? – but the movie becomes tolerable to watch compared to where it was before. It helps that this might be Tony Y. Reyes’ most gorgeous film to date, aping the creepy atmosphere of horror movies within its wacky, slapstick vibe & it makes it even funnier.

Buried underneath this uneven movie is a cast who are relishing the opportunity to be in a movie this silly. The performances are pitched higher than they should be, which is exhausting to watch, but the cast makes it work with their talent & enthusiasm for the limp material. It’s been a while since Kim Chiu starred in a comedy that’s not romantic & she fits right at home with the movie’s wackiness. Ryan Bang’s movie roles always end up either playing best friends of the main leads or borderline racist comic relief, but this time he gets a chance to shine on his own, trading quips with Kim Chiu & the rest of the cast. Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber are better at delivering jokes than translating their real-life romance to the big screen. Even Tetay, Lassy Marquez, Chokoleit & Pepe Herrera – who are also comedic actors known for playing sidekicks – are funny, even if they’re not given much to do. There’s a wealth of talent on display here, but the end result is a disappointing comedy that tries to do everything but ends up being tolerable.

*If you don’t understand Tagalog, Jack Colmenares’s name is a bad, dirty pun. ‘Jack Col’ sounds like ‘jakol,’ which means ‘to masturbate.’ Since the next syllable of that is ‘me,’ saying the name out loud is asking people to jack him off. ‘Nares’ doesn’t mean anything.

Movie Review: Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes is a Funny, Empathetic Beginner’s Guide to the LGBTQA+ Community

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrpUw4-MZY

TL;DR: Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (The Two Mrs. Reyes) turns a problematic premise into a funny, insightful look at sex, gender & the LGBTQA+community.

Filipino mainstream film studio Star Cinema’s first movie for 2018 – co-produced with Quantum Films & The IdeaFirst Company – has two cishet women receiving a crash course on the complexities of sex & gender in the worst way possible, after they found out their husbands are in a romantic relationship, bolting out of their lives & leaving them alone to pick up the pieces.

It’s not like their marriages were perfect to begin with. Lilian Reyes (Judy Ann Santos) is a successful owner of a plastic surgery clinic, who barely has any time with her husband Gary (Joross Gamboa) & her daughter Macy (Andrea Brillantes). She suspects Gary is cheating on her with a busty colleague, which pushes her to have breast implants. Cindy Reyes (Angelica Panganiban) is a loving wife who will do anything to please her husband Felix (JC de Vera). She also wants to be more sexually intimate with him, especally since her annoying mother-in-law (Carmi Martin) wants to have a grandson, but Felix rarely reciprocates her advances, spending more time with his cat rather with his wife.

So when both of their partners left without any warning, only to find out they’ve been in the closet for their entire lives, it was a devastating blow that left them reeling for answers. It took a while for them to talk to their husbands to clarify the situation or at least try to put things back to the way it used to be, but when they did, it got even more confusing for them. Gary is came out as a trans woman attracted to men, while Felix is heteroflexible cis man. They’re trying to take things in stride, but can’t get over the fact that they were cheated on, so what do they do: they’re going to split them up as a form of revenge before they get married in Taiwan.

It’s a very tricky premise that could easily go south, but director Jun Robles Lana handles it delicately. It’s not a surprise if you’re familiar with his work, since he’s directed a lot of classic queer Filipino films like Bwakaw & the surprise hit of Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 Die Beautiful; the latter of which is about the wake of a transgender woman & her friends trying their best to give her the funeral she wanted, while it flashes back from her complicated life to the grim present. But what he does here is nothing short of astounding. He lays out the nature of these two marriages, even before their husbands come out.

And once it does, the movie never turns the two Mr. Reyes into the butt of the jokes. They have a genuine relationship that is treated with utmost respect & nuance. It’s still chaste – which I assume is because our ratings board can be very harsh on queer movies – but it isn’t depicted as perfect either. They’re clearly in love but they have fights just like any other couple.

But the movie’s main focus is on our titular characters processing their unusual circumstances. They are at a loss as they are forced to understand the nuances gender identity & sexual orientation; especially once they start pulling off their plan to split them up. This might be the first Filipino fictional film to acknowledge the existence of other sexual orientations outside of gay & lesbian — such as pansexual & heteroflexible – & to mention LGBTQQIP2SAA with an explanation of what that means. They do mean well, even if they are don’t know what it means to be trans.

However, it also understands that they are coming from a place of sadness, confusion, & anger. It knows that their revenge, while juvenile & mean, is rooted in being shoved aside as their husbands form a new life without them. It even acknowledges how their duplicitous marriage is partly caused by a homophobic society that forces people to hide in the closet & lead unhappy, double lives to survive discrimination & violence. But it never loses sight of how horrible their plan is, especially once the two Mr. Reyes fears are suddenly realized.

Still, it doesn’t let the two Mr. Reyes get off the hook easily either. They did depart their wives without any proper explanation or time to process the news, & cheated on them, even if they aren’t heterosexual. That doesn’t mean they deserve hatred for coming out or because of their sexuality. They just completely mishandled the situation that left their wives wondering what went wrong.

What’s arresting is how Judy Ann Santos & Angelica Panganiban portray the complexity of what Lilian & Cindy go through with ease. Judy Ann Santos & Angelica Panganiban are great conspirators who find friendship through heartbreak. Panganiban is lively, snappy, & full of seething rage. Santos is less lively compared to Panganiban, despairing over the fact that an aspect of her life is now over, but she’s still capable of lashing out. Their different energies complement each other & it shows in their fast, comic banter.

And it is gut-bustingly hilarious! This is one of Star Cinema’s raunchier efforts – as raunchy one could get in the Philippines – yet it never relies on vulgarity alone. It is smart, silly, & at times slapstick, culminating in a memorable scene involving Lilian’s breast implants. Yet, it never loses sight of what all of them are going through.

That’s because Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes has huge empathy for all of its characters, even as it puts them through ridiculous situations. What’s impressive is it maintains a light comic touch even as it tackles the plight of the LGBTQQIP2SAA community through the eyes of two cishet females. As Lilian & Cindy learn, we should accept & allow them to live & love fully. Love is a beautiful thing that chooses no boundaries. Why bother getting in the way?