The first fifteen minutes of Olivia Lamasan's In the Name of Love is that sort of uncharacteristic greatness that comes from an otherwise unspectacular director. Hinting of a narrative that is darker than what is expected from a mainstream studio, Lamasan confidently lays the pieces of her masterpiece-in-the-making. After spending seven years in a Japanese jail for being caught transporting yakuza money in the airport while on his way home to visit his son, Emman (Aga Muhlach) has become old and modest in his ambitions. However, an unlikely meet-up with Mercedes (Angel Locsin), the prostitute-turned-girlfriend of a politician's son (Jake Cuenca), pushes him in the middle of a dangerous love triangle involving a murderous political family and a province struggling under its control.
Lamasan introduces Emman as the irreversibly old and wasted man who is fated for doom. Mercedes is the irresistible femme fatale, sexy beyond compare but seductively mysterious. The little town they live their sad lives in is clouded with discontent, with the prospect of the coming elections only exposing the town's unmistakably rotting core. The first fifteen minutes set up a film noir that never was. After building up expectations of gloom, Lamasan succumbs to the allure of drowning the set-up with paltry romance, completely wasting whatever's built up to confused schmaltziness.
Lamasan stages the most heartbreaking of dramatic moments in her films (such as the painful dinner scene in In My Life (2009) where the recently broken mother suddenly realizes how she destroyed the lives of her children, or the melancholic scene in Milan (2004) where an abandoned husband finally finds his wife in a worse condition than his, or the very angry scene in Sana Maulit Muli (Hopefully, Once More, 1995) where an illegal immigrant furiously bursts upon seeing the maltreatment a Filipino employer treats his employees) hinting of some sort of depth in her work within the usually shallow mainstream. In this film, she pits then matinee idol Muhlach with his inevitable old age, in one heartbreaking scene where his character, after being imprisoned for several years, stands in front of the mirror, realizing how he has wasted his youth, his life.
However, Lamasan struggles with mood, shifting from light-hearted moments to gloomy episodes and vice versa with the flimsiest of motivations. That has always been Lamasan's biggest fault. While Muhlach's vulnerability is commendable, he remains unconvincing as a dramatic actor, most especially when delivering lines that require some sort of sombreness, which sadly, the actor seems incapable of. His perpetually youthful looks provide some sort of visual irony, making his expected corruption and demise all the more heartbreaking. Unfortunately, expectations remain that. In the Name of Love is not as dark as it should be to be effective in depicting the crookedness of its setting. Though it aspires to be a great love story (even making use of the theme song of Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970) to communicate the gravity and grandness of the film's romantic aspirations), it simply fails to engage, remaining limp and overly simplistic in its portrayals.
Finally, in the name of escapism and sure returns, Star Cinema, the film's producer which is arguably the Philippines' most commercially successful movie studio, maintains the silliest and stupidest of traditions. Their movies (with the exception of their horror films which end with cliffhangers) are riddled with unnecessarily happy conclusions, making it seem that life, despite its gargantuan problems and unexpected tragic turns, are but fairy tales with predictable endings. While there is nothing generally wrong with escapist cinema, there is something glaringly evil about how films are haphazardly tacked with these happy endings, no matter how disgustingly illogical they are in the context of the film.
In the Name of Love is an ambitious but very flawed film. It could have been passable entertainment. However, with its completely irrelevant ending, the film devolves into some sort of insulting drivel, a confused marriage between untrusting capitalists and earnest artists, with the latter in the losing end. Like a poor man's porridge with a piece of pubic hair proudly floating, the otherwise palatable film is rendered virtually inedible with that single unforgivable compromise.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)