Immerse yourself in any country’s native cinema and you quickly pick up on the same range of quality that everyone, from Hollywood to Pinewood, Bollywood to Nollywood shares.
There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s ugly.
“Maria” is a superficially slick thriller in that universal “female assassin” genre. It’s what happens when you throw Netflix money at a national cinema better known for its energetic, gritty crime pictures —“BuyBust” was a recent example.
There’s little sense of the country’s more traditionally-depicted underworld here. No street life, layers of of a society with a depressingly large underclass. It’s all top-notch fight choreography, well turned-out villains and a villainess, and a pretty heroine who can wear a slit skirt and kick-ass while she’s doing it.
The prologue here is a big give-away, and is emblematic of a ham-fisted script. A ninja-dressed killer invades a fortified mansion, wipes out the guards and faces a test. Will she murder a child and her mother (or nanny)?
So when we cut to domestic scenes of a life that Maria (Cristine Reyes), husband Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and their little girl, Min Min, we already know she has a past, and what that past was.
Her husband is working for a crusading politician, the mob wants that crusader silenced and the mob heir, Kaleb (Germaine de Leon) wants to track down this missing killer everyone assumes is dead.
As with the prologue, this is a blunder. There’s no “discovering” the “dead” killer, “Lily,” is now Maria. That whole business is just botched, another surprise tossed away. Perhaps the many scenes of torture, carried out by the Big Boss, Riccardo (Freddie Webb) and his favorite minion Victor (KC Montero) are meant to distract us from this.
The movie stumbles about, with Boss Riccardo bitching about “Why haven’t you guys silenced/cut off the head” of this politician while Kaleb pursues his vendetta against Lily, whom he has no trouble at all tracking down.
Reyes is dazzling in a fight, and stunt director Sonny Sison stages some impressive brawls for her to punch, kick, slice and shoot her way out of. One, a stunning sequence in which she faces down a long line of murderous minions, “Old Boy” style (a narrow aisle of a warehouse) is particularly impressive.
Far less impressive is the story and the dialogue, in assorted Filipino dialects and English.
“For a dead person, you look hot!” is all too typical. “I want heads cut!”
The best line comes from that most reliable of “killer on the lam” tropes, visiting “an old friend.” That would be mob-connected Mister Greg (Ronnie Lazarro) for “one last favor” (another worn out trope, and line).
“I thought the LAST favor was the last favor?”
The fetishized “Let’s pick out some guns for you” scene, mayhem in a marketplace, the replacement female assassin (Jennifer Lee) who must be faced — been here, done that in pretty much every locale and every language imaginable.
“Maria” may put a fresh face on all of this, and a fresh sheen — mansions and what not. But it quickly turns into a movie we’ve seen too many times before, often done much better.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, torture, profanity.
Cast: Cristine Reyes, Germaine De Leon, KC Montero, Guji Lorenzana, Jennifer Lee and Ronnie Lazarro
Credits: Directed by Pedring Lopez, script by Yz Carbonell and Rex Lopez. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:29