The Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II initially serves as an exciting backdrop for the increasingly turgid and woefully overlong meller “The Call of the River.” Helming debut of thesp-turned-hyphenate Cesar Montano is a decent fest entry, but won’t travel far beyond traditional territories.
In the village of Bohol on the river Loboc, the beautiful Iset (Juliana Palermo) is drawn to simple boatman Duroy (Montano) but promised by her savvy parents to haughty American plantation manager John Smith, nicknamed “White Balls” (Philip Anthony). Later, when the Japanese arrive, officer Funio Okahara (Jacky Woo) courts the local lass, even as Duroy gravitates to the resistance movement. While the rebel invasion of Japanese HQ injects action into the late reels, this is the kind of overwrought pic in which the plot pivots on someone finding a locket in the forest. Thesping varies from Montano’s Keanu Reeves-ish stoicism to Anthony’s wincingly amateurish whining. Tech credits are atmospheric. Work won six Gawad Urian awards from Philippine critics, including nods for pic, actor, director, lensing, music and sound. Montano has a small role in delayed Miramax release “The Great Raid.”