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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 15, 2016

Mercury Is Mine Review: Good In Parts But Does Not Add Up To A Satisfying Whole

‘MERCURY IS MINE’ is a dark comedy that starts with seemingly pleasant, likeable characters who turn out to be more and more vicious as the movie unfolds. The opening scene shows Mercury (Bret Jackson) having a big fight in the rain with his father (Lee O’Brien). They’re Americans who came to the Philippines and the father was swindled by his Pinay girlfriend, making them totally bankrupt.

Carmen (Pokwang) lives alone in a carinderia near the foot of Mt. Arayat, which is frequented by treasure hunters. She’s thinking of closing it since almost no one eats there, until Mercury strays into it one rainy night asking for shelter. The boy asks Carmen to give him a job and he becomes her assistant. Mercury is very charming and quickly attracts more customers who want to have their pictures taken with him. The eatery picks up and Carmen is so pleased that she even buys Mercury some new clothes.

The relationship between the two leads develop in a pleasing and believable manner. Mercury has a sweet personality and it’s not surprising that Carmen quickly finds him endearing. We both get to sympathize with them. But soon, some complications spoil the otherwise smooth proceedings.
It turns out that Mercury has a deep dark secret that concerns murder and Carmen, who we thought all the while is solitary woman looking for company, turns out to have four grown up children and she despises all of them. What kind of mother is this who finds her own children repulsive? She even orders Mercury to impregnate her youngest daughter.

From there, it’s downhill all the way. Mercury gets duped by prostitutes who steal his money. He tries to get into a reality cooking show where a gay talent scout asks him to audition. Carmen objects to the idea and he runs away. When he returns, he says he has found the buried treasure of gold buried in Mt. Arayat. But the next morning, it turns out he got nothing but charcoal (there’s another dark twist in this.) Carmen finally allows him to leave for Manila to join the reality show, only to read later in a tabloid that something really bad happened to him while he’s in the big city.

One plus factor in the movie is that it’s quite swiftly paced. Despite its inadequacies, you won’t get bored because it’s told with liberal doses of humor and wicked wit that will surely please the audience. It’s the hilarious scenes that mask the movie’s shortcomings. And Pokwang delivers a very engaging portrayal of Carmen, even in the scenes where she talks directly to the camera like she’s doing a cooking show.

Bret is also good at the start, banking mainly on his natural appeal that registers well on screen, even if he doesn’t really look like someone who’s only 16 years old, Mercury’s supposed age. Bret’s acting loses its steam when he’s required to do some heavy dramatic scenes as an ostensibly sweet kid who actually has a mean streak and a very violent impulse. He resorts to over the top kind of emoting that should have been more controlled and doesn’t register well on screen.

In all honesty, a black comedy is really hard to do, but when it’s done well, it sizzles, just like “Fargo” or “Nurse Betty” in Hollywood. Locally, the only director who can do good black comedy is the late Ishmael Bernal in “Pagdating sa Dulo” and “Salawahan”. “Mercury is Mine” is good in parts but, sadly, all the amusing bits do not come together neatly and cohesively to add up to a very satisfying whole.

Since this is a black comedy, nothing is what it seems. Both Mercury and Carmen turn out to be both dark characters, cheating on each other and behaving illogically. In turn, we as viewers also feel cheated as it turns out we’re investing our feelings for them and they’re not even worth it, making us lose whatever compassion we have for them. It then comes out as something phony, as phony as Pokwang’s blonde hair that is obviously a wig, just like that of Ate Guy in “Tuos”.