The only thing worse than useless trash is useless trash with delusions of grandeur. For most of its mercifully brief running time, Panic 5 Bravo functions as barely competent Mexploitation, tossing a gunshot victim who’s swallowed $1 million worth of heroin-filled condoms into an ambulance under siege. Near the end, however, the film abruptly develops a conscience, drawing a moral line in the sand and even concluding with an inspirational quotation attributed to Albert Einstein. The pretense that anybody involved with this crap cared about anything more than creating something salable is beyond insulting.
Originally called simply 5 Bravo—the title is a dispatcher’s code, while the word “panic” seems to have been added just prior to the film’s release, presumably in an effort to make it seem more exciting—this inept action flick opens with four American paramedics sitting around waiting for a call near the U.S.-Mexico border. Demonstrating its classiness right up front, the film begins with a birthday celebration for Josh (Dan Rovzar) that involves strapping him onto a gurney and inserting a lit match into the tip of his penis. In the midst of this revelry, however, they spot a man (Shalim Ortiz) who’s been shot just a few hundred yards away. Since the victim, later identified as Rafael, is lying on Mexican soil, they’re technically forbidden to assist him; they decide to do so anyway, though, only to have their ambulance rammed and wrecked by cartel baddies who are after the drugs in Rafael’s stomach. An ostensibly tense standoff ensues, during which it’s revealed that at least one of the paramedics works for the cartel as well.
Written and directed by Kuno Becker, a Mexican actor best known in the U.S. for playing Drew Ramos on the revival of Dallas, Panic 5 Bravo takes place almost entirely inside the cramped ambulance, with the chief villain (Raúl Méndez) barking his threats from outside. That represents a tricky technical challenge, which Becker doesn’t remotely have the formal ingenuity to solve. He just cuts clumsily from one handheld close-up to another while the actors shout his pedestrian dialogue back and forth. (The nicest thing that can be said about the cast—including Becker, who plays the lead role, Alex—is that they’re all competent.) That places the emphasis on the story, which is largely nonsensical. It’s not clear why the bad guys don’t just force their way inside right off the bat, since that’s what ends up happening anyway, and it never occurs to our purported heroes that tossing their IDs outside will provide the cartel with their home addresses, allowing their loved ones to be abducted, brought to the site, and used as leverage.
This is all mindlessly tolerable so long as it remains crassly exploitative, though the scene in which Alex has to listen to his dog being beaten to death and his girlfriend (Sofía Sisniega) get raped and murdered is just unpleasant. In the last few minutes, however, Becker suddenly gets all weepy about man’s inhumanity to man, and rolling one’s eyes is the only possible response. The final shot (not counting a flashback epilogue showing how happy everyone was before things turned ugly) sees someone actually point a gun directly at the camera—an act that’s apparently meant to indict the viewer, though on what grounds isn’t clear. Are we being shot for sticking around to the end of this cynical exercise? Actually, that seems fair.