Assuming the victims' point of view in the type of kidnapping that's now epidemic in Latin America, Jonathan Jakubowicz's "Kidnap Express" depicts a nocturnal Caracas with tense energy while gingerly trying not to offend any political group in the current class wars embroiling Venezuela.

Assuming the victims’ point of view in the type of kidnapping that’s now epidemic in Latin America, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s “Kidnap Express” depicts a nocturnal Caracas with tense energy while gingerly trying not to offend any political group in the current class wars embroiling Venezuela. Pic can be seen as a raw, grassroots South American response to Tony Scott’s extremely problematic Mexico City kidnap thriller, “Man on Fire,” but is also an entertainment that should bust out of the local market to rack up good dinero in other Latin American territories.

In a night pregnant with a strange mix of tension and dizzy abandon, lovers Carla (Argentine thesp Mia Maestro) and Martin (Jean Paul Leroux) prowl clubs before drunkenly wandering back to his swank car. While he comes across as crass nouveau riche, she appears more liberal.

Their conspicuous affluence, however, makes them ideal targets for kidnappers, and the trio of Trece (Carlos Julio Molina), Budu (Pedro Perez) and Niga (Carlos Madera) gets a bead on them and promptly sweeps them up at gunpoint.

The kidnappers demand $20,000 to be delivered in two hours, and the resulting action plays out in a roughly compressed version of real time, cleverly clocked by occasional cutaways to a Caracas DJ announcing the time. Carla phones her rich father Sergio (Ruben Blades), but chaos soon ensues. A botched ATM robbery is followed by an amusing stopover at the palatial estate of a gay drug dealer.

Writer-director Jakubowicz allows the anger of the kidnap victims to be vented while also airing the views of the kidnappers who come from the city’s dreadful slums. Just as Carla’s and Martin’s political views clash, so do the kidnappers’ personalities, with good guys and bad emerging within the gang.

“Kidnap Express” thus dallies in politics while remaining resolutely apolitical, with its only straightforward message being that when it comes to Colombian cops, none can be trusted. Both sides of the Venezuelan political divide — the haves and the have-nots — will be able to glean from pic what they will and feel convinced that the thriller speaks to their cause.

In a considerable shift from her recent subdued work in Lucretia Martel’s “The Holy Girl,” Maestro works up a firebrand’s emotions and wrath in the face of her capture. She infuses each scene with considerable human terror and vulnerability, and unexpectedly, doses of irreverent wit. As the gang’s most brutish member, Perez (a vet Venezuelan hip-hop artist) makes a literally huge and ferocious impression. Blades, by contrast, has little to do.

Though vid lensing allows maximum, jittery mobility, transfer to film is poor. Music tracks, per several hip-hoppers in the cast, is rap heavy.

Secuestro Express

Venezuela

Production

A Tres Malandros presentation. Produced by Sandra Condito, Salomon Jakubowicz , Jonathan Jakubowicz. Executive producers, Elizabeth Avellan, Eduardo Jakubowicz. Directed, written by Jonathan Jakubowicz.

Crew

Camera (color, DV -to-35mm), David Chalker; editors, Ethan Maniquis Jakubowicz; music, Angelo Milli; music supervisor, Joe Rangel; production designer, Andres Zawisa ; costume designer, Anabella Almenar ; makeup, Stella Jacobs; sound (Dolby Digital), Stefano Gramito ; supervising sound editor, Bill Jacobs; associate producer, Stephanie Mora; assistant director, Mariela Perez; casting, Manuel Maytin. Reviewed at AFI Los Angeles Festival, Nov. 6, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Mia Maestro, Carlos Julio Molina, Pedro Perez, Carlos Madera, Jean Paul Leroux, Ruben Blades.

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