Muerte Suspendida: Time of the Hero

I remember reflecting after I saw the trailer, trying to wrap my mind around what I'd just witnessed. This movie could not exist. No way. It was too ludicrous to be real.

Sure, I’ve seen Venezuelan movies in the past like El Psiquiatra and Zamora, but nothing could compare to the sheer scale of overblown, self-aggrandizing badness I was forced to be witness to.

The movie? Muerte Suspendida, though at the time it was called CICPC: Rescate. Someone from the college event I saw it years ago with, recently told me that they apparently ran into legal issues for using the agency’s name.

Believe it or not, this is actually the second time I talk about this unholy propaganda piece for Caracas Chronicles. The first time, it was just another befuddling entry in chavismo’s uneven history with cinema.

But now? This time after one of the stars pulled the most spectacularly insane and pitiful attempts to bring down a modern government since Yukio Mishima, without the finesse. It’s a textbook example of Hilarious in Hindsight!

Let me tell you right off the bat that Muerte Suspendida is not a good movie, or even a ‘good’ bad movie like, say, Plan 9, The Room, or those Santo films. Sure, there are bits of unintentional comedy but I found the experience excruciating. It’s just a bland, derivative production grabbing from things that were already derivative to begin with.

40% generic action movie from the school of The Fast and The Furious, 40% second-rate off-brand CSI AXN filler, and 20% of random samplings from HTV and Telemundo. That’s what Muerte Suspendida is.

The plot follows two CICPC agents, Chopper Guy (Óscar Pérez, obviously) and The Other One (Laureano Olivares) their characters have names, but the plot is so bare you can pretty much replace all the character names with generic descriptions and nothing of value would be lost.

The two of them are informed that their holidays from the agency are suspended until they can solve the kidnapping of a Portuguese-Venezuelan entrepreneur, orchestrated by a Colombian criminal ring so stereotypical the boss is obviously modeled after Escobar, everyone is called Jairo they make these guys look dignified in comparison.

Then the movie attempts to build up some sort of tension with scenes that, thanks to a by-the-numbers co-written by the same guy who did RCTV’s El Chupacabras, comes off as either endless paddling, cheap telenovela melodrama, redundant expository dialogue. Come on! At least El Chupacabra had a crappy-looking monster to keep things entertaining. Some of the action sequences manage to be engaging to a point, though always undermined by their lack of realism.

The direction is well-done, even shines with creativity in some places, though its potential is damaged by noticeable editing problems now and then. The acting is uneven, with most of the cast competent at a Leonardo Padrón-penned telenovela-level, the villains hamming it up as if they were the bad guys in a reggaetón music video, and with Olivares having the thankless job to carry on the dead weight of Óscar Pérez’s wooden stare and beautiful but dead eyes.

The movie was produced by Adolfo López Sojo and Óscar Rivas Gamboa, the latter also being the director, and under the seal of Rivas’ company, OR Producciones de Cine y TV. Despite the name, this is the first movie the company produced, as they work to release a second feature later this year.

Overall OR Producciones’ focus seems to be making music videos and managing music artists, mainly one DJ Pana, a former Venevisión teen soap opera star who also has a part in the movie. In fact, the last six months of their Facebook page focuses mostly on DJ Pana, which is unsurprising once you discover his name is also Óscar Rivas.

Adolfo López Sojo, meanwhile, has a decade-spanning career producing films for Chalbaud, Lamata, Schneider and many others; both in state-funded productions as well as private, independent movies. His latest projects seem mostly centered on historical dramas.

So, um, how did this get funded?

Well, that explains it.

After Gamboa and López’s names, you discover Óscar Pérez wasn’t just the star of the movie; he’s also credited as a co-producer and one who, along with another CICPC member and Rivas Gamboa, came up with the story. And who’s the other CICPC member credited with the plot? None other than José Gregorio Sierralta then head of the CICPC and current viceminister. Sierralta is also listed as a consultant.

Following the footsteps of Hollywood’s vast, decades-long relationship with the US military, Muerte Suspendida doesn’t mind serving as advertising for how wonderful the CICPC is in exchange for props, personnel, and who knows what kind of resources Venezuela’s national police agency had laying around to spare. For instance, it was reported that 40 agents worked as extras for the movie.

This translates to gratuitous blockbuster sequences with Chopper Guy, The Other Guy, Yet Another Guy, and sometimes The Boss walking around in slow-mo with the helicopter in the background, running around the woods in an over-the-top training montage and, to top it all, working with a freakin’ Kinect-style holographic touchscreen.

They actually mentioned the screen in a press release saying that, along the parachute dog that tracks down the victim, these are elements that the agency “would presumably use“. Meaning, this supposed movie based on true events is as real as Minority Report or Turner and Hooch, since those are things that “presumably” could happen as well.

Instead of taking cues from Cangrejo and Tropa de Élite and trying to pin a human face to the difficulties of law enforcement in South America including little to no resources, rampant corruption, and the general contempt of society it chooses to dive deeply into an absurd, self-serving fantasy aping Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich on a budget that doesn’t allow the spectacle either of them are known for.

Overall, that’s the movie’s biggest flaw. It’s just too enamored with the CICPC and its protagonists to portray them as anything less than perfect, which is no surprise considering one of them came up with the movie.

From what I could find around, for Óscar Pérez this movie was very important. He wanted to portray the CICPC as heroic, something that would replace the pran worship that has become so common in the last few years.

But in place of being the hero born out of necessity, one that people could connect with– someone trying to be honest and decent amid so much chaos and decay Óscar chose to be the hero born out of imposition, a distant übermensch who does everything flawlessly, is never wrong, and always saves the day.

That kind of hero is very hard to pull off, and when it (usually) fails it becomes a ridiculous figure, a laughingstock. That kind of hero that believes only in his own myth while others suffer for it.

I am, of course, just talking about a movie.

José González Vargas

Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.