Netflixable? Filipino “Partners in Crime” camp up a caper

Imagine “Weekend at Bernie’s” as a caper comedy directed by John Waters’ Filipina sister.

That’s “Partners in Crime,” a campy Filipino romp filled with drag performers, only because they’re Filipino, they’re of a culturally accepted “third gender,” baklâ.

Watching the film, you never entirely forget who and what the characters and often the folks playing them are. Because “drag” is funny, something humorless American homophobes fail to appreciate. But seeing baklâ accepted in different careers, guises and walks of life lets us move on from the femine-identifying thing and concentrate on what’s important. In this case, that would be, “Are they funny?

“Crime” is about a popular TV presenter, Jack Cayanan, played by the award-winning and perfect-drag-named Vice Ganda. Campy and over-the top, “Madame” Jack hosts his own game show, which of course calls for production numbers and the like.

But Jack faces a crisis every performer dreads. Years of using and over-using his voice, pitching it towards a more feminine sound, wreck it. His bitchy rivals grab the chance to kvetch about how “haggard” and “old” Jack is looking. But just as he’s losing it all, a bubbly young beauty, Barbara Nicole Rose Albano (Ivana Alawi) comes to his rescue.

Working as a “team,” they relaunch his career as “their” career, making public appearances, hosting contests and the like. “JaBar,” as they bill themselves, are a winning combo. But she’s kind of in love with Jack, and he has to explain the facts of attraction to her, whom he loves as a “friend” and “colleague” and nothing more.

The real test of this team is when the network lady comes a calling with new offer. Jack is back, and time without Barbara, who is enraged at the betrayal.

When the rating-obsessed boss wants a show-stopper interview with the reclusive Don Bill, “the richest man in the Philippines” (in Tagalog and Filipino with English subtitles), who has survived “99 assassination attempts,” Jack resolves to get it. So does Barbara.

With each accepting the help of their baklâ or simply over-the-top female sidekicks, they pose as wait staff for Don Bill’s (Rez Cortez) birthday party.

That’s where death and blackmail and a deadly contest to “find the Don’s ‘coins'” ensues.

Unfortunately, one thing that doesn’t ensue is “hilarity.” A few stretches work up a spirited campy head of steam, and the tale finishes with a flourish. But the movie bogs down in a lot of inane, unamusing chatter and comic bits that don’t quite land.

Yes, the ex-teammates are forced to sneak around Don Bill’s estate hauling his body around as if he’s merely drunk or napping or not particularly talkative today. That delivers some laughs but wears thin.

The comical caper problem solving is inventive exactly once. But for the most part this script struggles to find what should be obviously funny in all this, as the performers, especially Ganda, strain to make the limply-written shtick outrageously amusing by camping it up.

“Partners in Crime” never manages to be more than a hit or miss affair, a one-day “Weekend at Bernie’s” that doesn’t have nearly as much fun with its best sight gag — a corpse — and can’t find enough laughs in that parody of femininity that drag often is to make up for it.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity, adult situations

Cast: Vice Ganda, Ivana Alawi, Rez Cortez, MC Calaquian and Kenneth Ocampo

Credits: Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, scripted by Jonathan Albano and
Cathy Garcia-Molina. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:48


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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