For two consecutive nights I treated myself to two Filipino movies before the Halloween. It’s a rendezvous to the theater before sulking on two days worth of graveyard speed dating and candle-lit epitaph analysis.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Hilarity
First on the list iss Praybet Benjamin (Private Benjamin) with Vice Ganda in the starring role as a gay cross-dresser who belongs to a family of soldiers encompassing five centuries of male virility. Benjamin “Benjie” Santos VIII (Vice Ganda) was born to another Benjamin (Jimmy Santos) who was shut out by the Santos for his reluctance to continue the family tradition of serving the military. Benjie’s grandfather is a retired general who held himself responsible to look after the family’s honor but failed upon Benjie’s family. They continue with their lives years after they were asked to leave the house as Benjie’s father works on his experiments as he dreams of being a scientist. On the General’s 75th birthday, the ostracized Santoses decides to attend the party only for further humiliation from the General after finding out that Benjie is gay. The lives of the Santoses changes when Abe Sayyaf (Andrew Wolff) named after a notorious terrorist group in the Philippines, takes hostage of top military officials in exchange for the release of the terrorist leader Billy Aladdin (Emilio Garcia). The country is placed under the Civil War commanding all men to be recruited in the military. Here Benjie takes his father’s place and decides to go instead.
Praybeyt Benjamin expands on the premise of the Scandinavian reality TV show Gay Army though operating on different morale. Benjie’s cue takes upon gay people’s unspoken virtue of grandeur that one has to prove himself on the revered price of respect, the stature of being next to Maria Clara, a reality that even Filipina women gave up on ages ago. In the modern world of “love-it-or-hate-it”, to subscribe on such is to toss away the years of fun. But of course Praybeyt Benjamin does not weld on these moralities, it does not even take itself seriously in the first place. Vice Ganda’s antics are soiled to the ground in this movie, something that Wenn Deramas understands that the audience will look for that shamelessly an episode of Gandang Gabi Vice would fit as media bite in it. Self-reproach and sarcasm are thrown like sharp swords in the movie hoping the target would catch it and get a laugh. Sadly, half of it are missed, relying on good old tried and tested material that fall flat in the audience’s face making us feel guilty why we did not get tickled on that one. On some, Vice Ganda relieves us like retarded kids shaking hands with the biggest bully in the class, happy to be finally spared of his scorn. That is how Vice Ganda plays his card on this one, a reluctant inferior who picks on everyone that treads on his way. Everybody expects that he would throw a good one.
His supporting actors are given the script that would work with just any one in the business with the exception of veteran Eddie Garcia as the role of the General Santos played with authority. The rest is given with cut-and-dried punches long been used and has withered away in the game. It sends a hint of calculation, not incidental but more of learned. Derek Ramsey, Philippine flavor of the month, seems to have bagged the role already tailored by Deramas for him— visual explanation needed. Get the picture, pictures.
In all its worth, Praybeyt Benjamin entertains and remains at that. Deramas does not try to kick-start any thing considering that maybe it has never intended to and the audience do not expect it at the same time. We cannot fault the film for that. Praybeyt Benjamin could have though and might have won some battles but it secures the cash register instead.
Praybeyt Benjamin is released by Star Cinema and Viva Films.