“Cuchera” doesn’t quite amount to a bait-and-switch, but what’s set up as an expose on drug smuggling to China and the hundreds of Filipinos imprisoned there — an opening title provides facts and figures — segues into sex shows, violence and a fetishistic fascination with homosexuality. All of this may meet market expectations in Asia, but will likely keep it there.
Amid the amateur acting, out-of-focus shooting and perfunctory exploitation, a streak of desperation runs through the characters, principally Isabel (Maria Isabel Lopez), a former prostitute and drug mule trying to set up her own operation, drafting impoverished teenagers to jam their body cavities with drug-stuffed condoms and take off for China. Debuting helmer Joseph Israel Laban, apparently a former journalist who covered the subject, seems well-versed in the mechanics and processes of indoctrinating and preparing drug couriers — who knew eating wet okra helped one swallow dozens of drug balloons? There’s an important social agenda at the heart of “Cuchera,” but Laban’s preoccupations with body cavities and their abuse makes the film itself hard to swallow, and the gratuitous nature of so much that goes on here will drastically limit exposure.