There are a million ways to get a potboiler’s plot rolling, but this ultra-indie thriller goes for a variation on an old classic: Having just flown from California to his hometown of Manila, Adam (Gamazon) waits for his pickup. Suddenly, a cell phone mysteriously stashed in his backpack starts ringing. A voice tells Adam that his family is being held hostage, and he’d better follow a series of anal-retentive instructions. Otherwise, he can kiss his kin good-bye.
It’s the type of race-against-time gimmick that Hitchcock would have used as both a starting point and a nail-biting endgame, but codirectors Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana have more on their minds. Adam is a Filipino-American who considers himself more of the latter than the former, and in the eyes of his tormentor, he’s let his Muslim faith become co-opted. So our hero has to run around the ghettos of nearby Cavite City as reminder of his heritage, and take part in a fundamentalist jihad.
Here’s where the filmmakers lose us: If you’re going to criticize America’s globalist tendencies (as the well-known golden arches in the mise en scne suggest), why torture a first-generation American working as a security officer in San Diego? To take Adam to task for selling out seems half-baked, and simply leaves viewers mulling over the film’s political point. Add in a shaky-cam aesthetic that goes from charmingly crude to nausea-inducing (bring Dramamine), and you can feel Cavite slowly wearing out its welcome. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—David Fear