The first few minutes of the abysmal new thriller Secuestro Express set out to undo decades of hard work by the Venezuelan tourist board by depicting the country as a nightmarish hellhole where kidnapping ranks as a top local industry, closely followed by drug dealing, transsexual prostitution, and police corruption. From there, writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz does his best Quentin Tarantino impersonation, loading the film with percussively profane dialogue, smug adolescent nihilism, rampant drug use, pop-culture references, homophobic invective, and empty stylistic excess. The Tarantino influence seems to have faded in America, but it survived abroad by cross-pollinating with regional sensibilities, producing Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels in Great Britain and the superb Amores Perros in Mexico. Rather than growing and progressing, however, the Tarantino knockoff has devolved, and Secuestro Express represents a breed that doesn't deserve to survive.
Shot on the kind of smudgy, indistinct video better suited to documenting family vacations or the sex lives of exhibitionists, the film follows the kidnapping of a wealthy, callow pretty boy (Jean Paul Leroux) and his gorgeous, good-hearted fiancée (Mía Maestro) by a trio of street toughs. Jakubowicz co-stars as the kindest and most moral of the kidnappers—one of whom is introduced, via freeze frame, as a loving father and rapist—which means he's less gung-ho about rape and murder than his less-enlightened compatriots. Leroux manages to slip away from his hapless, hopped-up kidnappers early on, leaving Jakubowicz more time and space to concentrate on the lingering specter of sexual violence against Maestro, which dominates the film. At one point, one of the kidnappers, for no discernible reason, fires a machine gun into a crowd of gender-bending streetwalkers, which would mark a hideous nadir for most movies, but qualifies as par for the course here. Jakubowicz's script pays considerable lip service to the class schisms underlying the kidnapping, but the would-be political elements feel cynical and halfhearted, a transparent and unsuccessful attempt to turn a sleazy, worthless wallow in sex, drugs, and violence into a hard-boiled critique of capitalism's excesses. In the bleak universe of Secuestro Express, life is cheap, irony is cheaper, and the grindhouse production values are cheapest of all.