Dir/scr: JonathanJakubowicz. Venez-US. 2005. 86mins.

The debut feature fromVenezuelan-born 26 year-old Jonathan Jakubowicz, Secuestro Express is abold warts-and-all chronicle of a commonplace kidnapping on the brutal streetsof Caracas. Shot on digital video and filled with the kind of flash kineticenergy which will get him noticed on the world map, the film is certainly animpressive calling card. Indeed the film itself is produced by collaborators ofRobert Rodriguez and distributed worldwide by Weinstein-era Miramax Films, so ahigh profile for the young talent is already assured.

It had its world premiere atAFI FEST in Los Angeles last Nov and played at the Miami International FilmFestival in March, but opened in the US in cinemas last Friday (Aug 5) andthroughout the world thereafter.

How well it performs witharthouse audiences will depend on how much unpleasantness and cruelty they canbear to watch in one short, sharp 86-minute adrenaline rush. Relentless andintensely violent, it is intended to show the poverty and inequality thatgovern the streets of Caracas. Jakubowicz takes it one step further, however,excising any sense of human decency from victims and aggressors alike, with thefinal result that the city appears like one irredeemable cesspool of amorality.Visitors to Caracas, beware.

Secuestro Express is anothername for the current trend of quickie kidnappings in Latin America wherebyorganized groups of thugs snatch affluent upper class folk and extort moneyfrom their families, usually a reasonable sum of money which the families arelikely to pay without involving the police.

The film kicks off withscenes of rich couple Carla (Maestro) and Martin (Leroux) leaving a dance clubafter a night of partying. She lights up a joint in the car while he pops backinside to buy another gram of cocaine.

Meanwhile the threekidnappers - Trece (Molina), Budu (Perez) and Niga (Madera) - prepare for anight of work by saying goodbye to their families and playing with theirchildren. Once they are all together, they too hit the coke and set off to findtheir victims for the night.

Outside a pharmacy they grabCarla and Martin and immediately call their families to demand $20,000 - arelatively small amount for the rich but the equivalent of five years' worth ofthe country's minimum wage.

Of course, the kidnappersare also drunk on power and they immediately beat Martin, threaten Carla withsexual assault and kill another thug who tries to attack Martin at an ATMmachine. Sustaining physical injury, it seems, is an inevitable byproduct ofbeing kidnapped on the secuestro express. Ironically it is Martin who is set upto get raped when they next visit a gay drug-dealer who sells them a suitcasefull of drugs on condition that they leave their male hostage with him for halfan hour.

This is where Jakubowiczstarts to lose his focus. Since Martin is the film-maker's symbol foreverything rotten about the privileged classes, he is now revealed to be acloseted gay man deceiving Carla, his girlfriend of five years. It appears healready knows the drug dealer, and the two start having aggressive anal sex,only to be disturbed by the kidnappers and Carla. Gay - and liberal - audienceseverywhere will bristle at this absurd depiction of gay men as drug-addled, immoraland deceiving.

As the kidnappers and theirprey set off again through the city in the early morning, Carla and Martin arenow seriously estranged. So it comes as no surprise that, when the soullessMartin escapes, he has no qualms about leaving his fiancee in the hands of thekidnappers. He gets his comeuppance, nonetheless, when he gets a taxi driven byone of the kidnappers' friends who delivers him back into their hands.

Carla becomes thekidnappers' sole bargaining tool and she is taken to a rundown tenement, tiedup and sexually taunted (although never actually raped) before her father(Blades) makes good and delivers her ransom. She is then taken to a rubbishdump on the outskirts of the city where she is again taunted and threatened bythe kidnappers, until they leave in a blaze of gunfire and two policemen arriveclaiming they want to rescue her. Or do they'

There is no respite from theacts of sadism on show in Secuestro Express. Maestro's character isbetrayed, brutalised and humiliated, although one of the kidnappers at leastshows some degree of mercy when she is at her most vulnerable. Yes, the streetthugs who randomly murder, kidnap and terrorise have got it bad in social andeconomic terms, but their alternative is morally grotesque.

As for Carla, she is theleast offensive of the five, as we are told she works with the poor and sickduring the day. But her ordeal is so extreme that Jakubowicz doesn't give thecharacter much time to show us that she's more than just a spoilt, dope-smokingrich girl trying to stay alive.

Production companies
Tres Malandros

US distribution
Miramax Films

International sales
Miramax International

Executive producers
Elizabeth Avellan
Eduardo Jakubowicz

Sandra Condito
Salomon Jakubowicz
Jonathan Jakubowicz

David Chalker

Production design
Andres Zawisa

Ethan Maniquis

Angelo Milli

Main cast
Mia Maestro
Jean Paul Leroux
Ruben Blades
Carlos Julio Molina
Pedro Perez
Carlos Madera