‘Panic 5 Bravo’ Can’t Hide Its Ugly Side

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panic-5-bravo

Sometimes a bit of topicality can sneak a bit of smarts in what would appear to be nothing more than a silly genre picture. Conversely, that topicality can backfire, obscuring the technical smarts with real world idiocy. Panic 5 Bravo, the new film from writer-director-star-producer-editor Kuno Becker, attempts to mine the hot button issue of the US-Mexico border into a minimalist thriller. While I wouldn’t go as far to call Panic 5 Bravo steeped in either technical brilliance or pure idiocy, what it gets right is violently blotted out by some seriously problematic elements.

On the Arizona side of the US-Mexico border, 4 paramedics get ready for another night. You have Alex (Becker), the hard working Mexican-American who is saving the money to propose to his girlfriend. Then there’s Josh (Dan Rovzar), the hot shot rich kid rookie. Finally there’s Bobby (Papile Aurora, here credited as Catherine Papile) and Richard (John Henry Richardson), a recently split couple with a huge age disparity, and he’s just days from retirement. When they see a man bleeding to death on the other side of the border, and after a lengthy debate, the group decide to help the dying man. Yet they didn’t realize that this man was wanted dead by the cartels. After picking up the wounded man, the ambulance is sideswiped. Trapped with a patient that viscous cartels want alive, these paramedics are put in a hopeless situation that will test their very humanity.

This film is entirely the vision of its star, writer, and director Kuno Becker, who also shares editing and producing credits. And while I’ll praise Becker for some directorial decisions and a solid acting performance, his writing leaves a lot to be desired. For example, while the film is effective in building a dreadful tension in the moments after the crash, these characters possess a casual racism and brutality that is never fully coherent. While it may be that Becker wants to illustrate that in trying situations the good can quickly turn bad, what he really does is fill his limited cast of characters with truly detestable traits that you don’t really care who lives or dies, you just want it to end. What makes it all so wrong is by the end of the film you don’t understand why characters do their awful actions. It does attempt to reconcile these moments, but none of it is really coherent.

Among the traits that gets drowned out is the film’s wonderful use of sound. With its single confined location, the film uses sound to fill in the blanks and make the tension all the more unbearable. However, like the film’s topicality, this film finds the opposite end of the spectrum, where the use of sound only makes the film’s worst decision all the more apparent. At a certain point for reasons that really don’t make much sense, the cartel kidnaps Alex’s girlfriend and dog. We must watch Alex’s pained reaction as his pet is murdered and his girlfriend raped and murdered. We don’t see any of this, only hear it. It’s such an ugly moment that I instantly turned on the film. Up until that point, I saw enough virtues to overlook its messy parts. The use of violence against pets in film for a quick emotional response is cheap, but the use of rape for the sole purpose motivating a male character’s revenge is stupid, cheap, and, frankly, deplorable.

Panic 5 Bravo isn’t devoid of charms. Papile Aurora, or Catherine Papile, has potential to be star if given better material. Even its shepherd, Kuno Becker, has legitimate skill as an actor and director. However, his talents are one that require oversight. Throughout history there are only a handful of filmmakers who can successfully carry out the multiple duties of writer-director-producer-star – Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin. The number of filmmakers who attempted to fill such roles and proceeded to make among the worst movies ever – Edward D. Wood, Jr., Tommy Wiseau – proves this formula leads to more duds than successes. Becker isn’t in the latter category, but some of his instincts bring him dangerously close. And it stings, I really liked some of Becker’s work here – it had a sort of (the original) Assault on Precinct 13 feel – but its flaws always rise to the foreground too often to ignore. And the flaws are, sadly, quite ugly.

 

Panic 5 Bravo opens in limited release on December 5th.

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