Review: ‘Video City: Be Kind, Please Rewind’, too reel to be real

Writer-director Raynier Brizuela’s time-travel whirlwind romance Video City: Be Kind, Please Rewind (a collaboration between Viva Films and GMA Pictures) is an ambitious project tragically forced within an obviously limited budget, resources and creative restrictions.

Brizuela, setting his film mainly in the year 1995, uses tight framing and a shaky cam technique, but not so much as to direct our focus on Ruru Madrid’s frequently teary eyes, but to avoid the movie’s lack of era-specific looks.

Knowing that it’s a copyright nightmare for a low-budget movie such as Video City to recreate 1995, we are severely deprived of nostalgia. Then there’s the restriction issue: the 1990s are marked by the Eraserheads, the launch of the Windows 95 operating system, the O.J. Simpson trial, Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, Jolina Magdangal, Smokey Mountain and some major Philippine news and current events.

But the production obviously cannot and will not show anything outside of Viva Entertainment’s world. Hence, the concept itself — a period piece — is already a failure.

The inability of the film to recreate the ‘90s in the Philippines is the least of the movie’s problems. The film’s wobbly script from an unfocused story reduces the experience to something of an endurance test.

Video City traps the audience within the suffocating four walls of Video City, a popular VHS rental shop in the ‘90s owned by Viva Entertainment, Inc.

We watch a love story develop between Han (Ruru Madrid), a student from 2023, and Ningning (Yassi Pressman), a Video City worker from 1995. Suffocating, because of the tight framing combined with hackneyed, cringy dialogue and the severe lack of chemistry between the two leads.

Independently, both actors give their best to bring life to their thinly written characters from a largely unremarkable, bizarre storytelling. Yet together, they cannot even produce a mild spark.

Pressman’s Ningning, with her permed wig colored with blondie highlights (definitely not a Pinoy ‘90s look), is an energetic actress-wannabe, while Madrid’s Han is a depressive filmmaker-wannabe. Movies are the duo’s mutual passion, yet the script does not allow this passion to take root, further weighed down by the need to promote Viva’s past products, such as the movie Maging Sino Ka Man. There is no build-up in the romance.

Ningning, upon realizing that Han comes from the future, is just very surprised for mere minutes. This rip in the space-time continuum does not inspire shock from Ningning, and she bizarrely does not ask questions about this supernatural occurrence. Even Han is just mildly surprised by his ability to time-travel via — get this — a VHS tape rewinder.

Han is also inexplicably hired by the Video City branch, clearly the script’s excuse to “build” the bond between him and Ningning. But he never gets a Video City uniform. He is always in civilian clothes. Why?

RURU Madrid delivers an effortless performance (please give this guy more nuanced roles!) but his talent is wasted here. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GMA pictures

In order to provide conflict and threat to the love story, Brizuela set a “limited time” — Han’s daily visit in 1995 gets shortened every day. With this restriction, Han also has to understand the “purpose” of his time travel really fast.

But then the movie suddenly loses interest in Han’s initial angst: His uninspired thesis, the pressure to be as creative as his retired filmmaker mother (Suzette Ranillo), whose paralyzing health issues (we never know what her actual health issue is) is also affecting his mental health.

Sure, these are mildly tackled and Han gets an “instant cure” for himself and his mother after attending a 1995 movie presscon (was it really open to the public back in the day?). But all of these issues are sidestepped to give way for the unengaging love story.

Brizuela, the creative director of the social-media humor page PGAG, also utilizes the tiresome rain effect to “enhance” the romantic thrills. But with the way the rain suddenly appears (alongside Wency Cornejo’s song “Tag-ulan”), you find yourself recoiling instead of falling in love.

The old Filipino nursery song “One Day, Isang Araw, I Saw, Nakakita” is also given an unusual prominence in the paper-thin script, making you wince even more.

Madrid delivers an effortless performance (please give this guy more nuanced roles!) but his talent is wasted here. Not even his commendable performance can save this movie.

Video City is difficult to sit through. The entire time, I was placed in an existential dread — I could neither forward the time to speed up the movie nor rewind back in time and avoid this altogether.

0 out of 5 stars
Now showing in cinemas