As Danny Glover would say in Lethal Weapon: “I’m too old for this…” That thought lingered during most of the screening of Código Paz, the Dominican action film launches the filmmaking career of your director Pedro Urrutia. I want to clarify that my feelings are neither negative nor a rejection. Far from it. This explosive debut is much more that could’ve been expected before of a local production in this genre. This explosive debut is much more than you could expect in a local production of genre. Well coordinated fight choreography and gunplay scenes. Thumping bass music well suited to the images on screen. (Maybe a little too loud and very dubstep… Lord! What’s wrong with me?) Fans of the genre will be more than happy with the result, regardless of my opinion.
Código Paz in a Nutshell
I even found the plot ingenious, at least during the first half of the film. Código Paz begins with two parallel stories: On one side is Pedro Ruíz (David Maler), a real estate employee who spends his nights with his friend Wellington (Ivan Aybar) stealing artifacts from recently sold properties, which they penetrate with the help of Anna (María Angélica Ureña), his inside man, er, girl. On the other is Fernando del Rosario (José Guillermo ‘Memo’ Cortines), the realty owner, who made his fortune unlawfully with the help of corrupt former Senator Alejandro Vega (Isaac ‘Panky’ Saviñón) and Police Colonel Ortíz (Félix Germán). Fernando, a widower, seeks to transfer the business to his daughter Paz (Paula Sánchez Ferry) and enjoy the good life with Laura (Nashla Bogaert), his beloved girl’s personal bodyguard.
Both tales intercede during a mansion heist, where Pedro and Wellington are caught off-guard by the arrival of Fernando and his personal entourage of killer thugs headed by the relentless Máximo (Héctor Aníbal). Everyone is surprised by a mysterious figure, half Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe: Retaliation and half Sam Fisher from the Tom Clancy videogame series. Pedro witnesses from his hiding place how the figure shoots down Fernando, right before Máximo finds him. Ruiz escapes and Paz, thirsting for vengeance, blames him for the murder. This triggers various chase sequences and bullet-soaked encounters which culminate in an assault on a beach house.
Everything You Ever Wanted… Wasn’t What You Wanted
To say more would spoil many surprises to the audience, but seriously what more could you ask for? Intrigue. Violence. Great haircuts (“hair stylist” definitely had to be one of the most enjoyable jobs during production). Nashla Bogaert in a bikini and kicking ass. Panky and Memo in a facial hair duel worthy of Freud versus Jung. The next male nominees for the “Hottest Bod” pageant, all armed and occasionally shirtless. If all this sounds good, ignore the rest of this review and go buy your ticket right now. You’re gonna have a super fun time, I assure you.
Are they gone? Well then, I now turn to you, the undecided, whom I thank for the attention but assure I’m not looking to convince, just hoping you’ll allow me to vent and rant as the grandfather that I have obviously become.
I consider myself more of a film columnist, a simple fan. I watch the classics and the masterpieces with conviction and for self-education, but the recent releases for fun. I’m a man of the Eighties, raised by Spielberg, Lucas, Donner, McTiernan, Zemeckis, Raimi, Verhoven, Burton, Carpenter, Besson, Harlin and directors influenced by them. The only Oscar categories that used to matter to me was Best Sound, Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects. Action, Science Fiction, Fantasy; those are my genres. I never imagined that there would come a time where I could appreciate a good action movie only as a technical exercise. Thanks to Código Paz, it happened to me.
On Caring Less
I don’t think the story is the problem here. The script Urrutia wrote with Luis Arambilet is well structured and often shows off very funny dialogue. As a matter of fact, the line a villain named Flaco (Canek Denis) says in the scene where he’s threatened with a gun (you’ll know the one) is the bit of dialogue in a Dominican film that so far has made me laugh out loud the most in a theater.
I find only two weaknesses in the screenplay, the first being the absence of “good guys” or at least “anti-heroes”. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodríguez (two clear influences in the style of Urrutia) have based almost all of their films around morally ambiguous characters, but at least they inject these “despicables” with personality or redeemable characteristics.
The inhabitants the Código Paz universe (with the exception of Wellington, Skinny, and to some extent Ortiz Fernando) are all constipated looks and bull-nostril deep breaths. Bogaert’s character, for example, comes off here as a glorious amalgam of Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Gina Carano on Haywire, Halle Berry in Die Another Day and Michelle Rodríguez in EVERYTHING! However, her motivations are never clear. ¿Quien Manda? proved she’s an excellent actress and comedienne, but here she’s just looking good! (“Then why the hell am I complaining?”, you might ask.)
I’m withholding what I consider weakness number two for the sake of not spoiling the ending.
All my earlier praise for the movie is sincere, I meant it. Yet little of what was presented on screen felt fresh, which is the problem. The “freeze frame flash forward” opening; the parkour across rooftops; the Matrix-style bullet-time showdowns; the femme fatale with a leather couture discount card; overlapped graphics like the running clock and the phone text chats. All these images harken from many other films and although they are well used, their “dominicanization” or rather “aplaintainzing” (a thousand pardons to Merriam-Webster and Earth in general for that one) is not enough to make them feel fresh or original to me.
No doubt Urrutia will go far in our industry and even abroad. He’s demonstrated the necessary level of narcissism to succeed—after all, his personal logo is a gold bar and his directing credit is nearly as big as the movie title card. The fact he could achieve such and ambitious and professional looking flick in his first at bat, in a genre with little background in Dominican film history, is worthy of congratulations. More importantly, like José María Cabral, Urrutia is emerging as a director full of energy and imagination that has not yet found his own voice, but that will be second to none when it’s defined.
As I have done on previous occasions, I accept that I am not the target public of this project but admit it was a pleasant movie experience. Not having connected with it is my problem and mine alone. I’ll move quietly to the nursing home and will classify Código Paz as what it represents: an impressive demo reel and the beginning of a fun filmography. I now give the last word to Cortines, who summarized the movie to perfection during its premiere: “Do you like gunfire? Nothing more to say!”
This review was first published on the Revista U website. Click here for the original article (in Spanish).
Movie title: Código Paz
Movie description: An energetic achievement in Dominican action cinema that unfortunately offers little innovation to its genre.
Date published: 2014-09-18
Director(s): Pedro Urrutia
Actor(s): David Maler, Paula Sánchez Ferry, Nashla Bogaert, Héctor Aníbal, José Guillermo Cortines, Isaac Saviñón, Ivan Aybar, María Angélica Ureña, Félix Germán, Canek Denis
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama