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.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Gandarrapiddo: The Revenger Squad Proves Vice Ganda Needs a Complete Overhaul

TL;DR: Ganpdarrapido: The Revenger Squad throws in a couple of tweaks to Vice Ganda’s formula, but it only highlights how tired, mean & cynical this endeavor has become.

Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad is Vice Ganda on autopilot. No amount of flashy special effects can hide that his brand of caustic, reference-heavy, insult humor has become lazy & tired. It’s unfortunate since it’s trying to say something substantial about the world we live in, but it’s hindered by the man at the center of the movie.

Meme (Vice Ganda) & Chino (Daniel Padilla) are siblings living under one roof with their friends Bul-Dog (Wack Kiray), Bok-Bok (Lassy Marquez), Luz-Luz (MC Calaquian) & a young boy named Enrique Heal (Justin Quulantang). They also have a neighbor named Peppa (Karla Estrada) who often goes inside their house & joins their antics. Meme is very strict to Chino, controlling every aspect of his life. She does have good intentions, doing it to protect her brother; who often gets himself into trouble & bounces from one job to another. However, Chino wants nothing more than to do whatever he wants without Meme’s approval.

He may just get his wish. It turns out he will gain powers on his 21st birthday, which he inherited from his evil father Madman (RK Bagatsing). It’s a secret kept by Peppa & the rest of their friends to Chito & Meme, since they used to be a group of superheroes which Meme was a part of – as the titular Gandarra – & they’ve been trying to keep a low profile after Meme suffered from amnesia, forgetting her superhero past. After recovering Meme’s past as a superhero, they will do their best to protect Chino from the likes of Kweenie (Pia Wurtzbach), a villainous woman with powers who spreads fake news in order to spread chaos & confusion among the masses.

Like The Super Parental Guardians, it’s trying to tackle important issues in our society through Vice Ganda’s glib, irreverent comedic style, but handles it so much better compared to the previous movie. This time, they’re making a stance against misinformation & its effects. While it’s not a deep exploration of how fake news ruin lives & undermine democratic societies, it’s better integrated into the plot & even has parallels with Meme, Chino, & Kweenie’s storylines. It helps that the movie has a stance against fake news, instead of flirting with the issue without saying anything meaningful.

Another aspect that makes it an improvement over The Super Parental Guardians is the improved integration action & comedy. The action scenes are well choreographed & much clearer, while the jokes act as punctuation. The production values are also top-notch for a Filipino production, full of splashy, bright colors atypical of recent superhero movies & decent special effects.

But what drags the movie towards abject mediocrity is Vice Ganda herself. He does the same shtick we’ve seen before & there are no attempts to improve or innovate upon it. It wouldn’t be a problem if the jokes are funny or have actual bite in them, but most of it are recycled riffs from his former work or references whose shelf life is already expired by the time the movie comes out; hope you like forced Baby Shark & Nyeam jokes! Some of these jokes stand out for being hateful & surprisingly homophobic; like Chino forcing two male minions to kiss, which is funny because people love to treat gays as punchlines instead of actusl human beings. Admittedly, some bits are hilarious, like a couple of fourth-wall jokes, but it’s so rare they feel like aberrations to the movie’s norm. The movie’s laziness overwhelms the movie that it counteracts whatever goodwill it has in the first place.

Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad might’ve been made as the huge crowdpleaser of the MMFF, and they definitely succeeded, since it looks like it’s the highest grossing film of the festival. But if this is going to be a sign of things moving forward, let’s hope they’ll be willing to improve his style to stop it from being stale & uninspired. The families who flock to his movies deserve better.