DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Mia Maestro as CARLA
    Ruben Blades as CARLA’S FATHER
    Carlos Julio Molina as TRECE
    Pedro Perez as BUDU
    Carlos Madera as NIGA SIBILINO
    Jean Paul Leroux as MARTIN

    Rated R
    Studio: Miramax

    Directed by: Jonathan Jakubowicz
    Back to DVD Review Home


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I’m on the fence when it comes to “Secuestro Express.” On one hand, I think it’s a brilliant piece of moviemaking. Shot with mostly non-professional actors on digital video, it’s innovative and gritty. It really captures an intensity that is not possible with a 40-pound camera and massive crew.

On the other hand, I found it tedious and silly at times. From a filmmaking angle, it’s a movie to be studied, but from a writing angle, it could have been so much better.

“Secuestro Express” is about the epidemic crime of kidnapping in Latin America. We ignorant Americans probably haven’t heard much about this outside of films like “Man on Fire,” but it’s a huge deal south of our border. The crime of “secuestro” involves kidnapping and ransom similar to what we see here in the states. However, “secuestro express” involves a quick kidnapping for a small ransom.

In the typical secuestro express, kidnappers find targets based on how they dress and what cars they drive. They then snatch the victims and hold them for a couple hours, sometimes getting money from their families and sometimes just taking them to an ATM to clean out a bank account. For the would-be kidnapper, the express version is easier because it can be done several times a night, it takes less planning and it can all be done before the police are even alerted.

According to reports, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz was kidnapped himself, and he made this film to depict the level of tension and terror felt with a gun in your face for 45 minutes. To a degree, he did achieve this. However, to build a 87-minute film from it, he had to add some goofy subplots and story arcs that just took away from the greater power of the film.

Jakubowicz humanizes the kidnappers rather than making them mindless, evil thugs, and that’s not a bad thing. It helps to show how human nature allows us to do evil things without being evil in all aspects of our lives. To show humanity in evil men reminds us that it is everyone’s nature to be like this.

The problem with delving too much into these characters is that they sometimes do silly or stupid things. Rather than just sit on their victims for several hours while they wait for a ransom, they cart them around town with them, even leaving one of them with a drug dealer friend in the process. About half-way through the film, I came to the conclusion that these were the dumbest kidnappers on the planet.

The DVD contains some deleted scenes and a Spanish-language making-of featurette (with English subtitles). The more interesting feature is a piece that gives the background of secuestro express and how it works. There’s also a music video by the actors who portray the kidnappers, who happen to be up-and-coming rappers. Jakubowicz lends his voice to an English-language commentary while the cast joins him for a second Spanish-language commentary (again with English subtitles).

This film was released in Venezuela to resounding success, and it is clearly made for the Latin American market, considering it is not dubbed in English. It makes sense because the crime of secuestro express is very relevant to those who live in Latin America. To me, though, all it’s really done is convince me not to travel to Latin America – or if I do to wear overalls and drive a beat-up VW bug.

Specifications: Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Original Spanish language track. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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