A rush of a film whose speed can't mask its underlying flaws.
7 Boxes is a cat-and-mouse chase movie set in a seedy marketplace in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, whose breakneck pace is its saving grace, for better or for worse. On one hand, the rapid clip at which the film zooms by makes it entirely watchable and entertaining. It’s a rush of a film, but if you take a moment to stop, breathe, and think about what’s actually happening on screen–the idiocy of the characters’ actions, the impossibly numerous, absurd happy accidents, the trite chase movie scenarios–you begin to realize that 7 Boxes uses its speed as a bit of a crutch.
Our hero is Victor (Celso Franco), a disheveled 17-year-old whose only distinguishing personality trait is that he dreams of being a movie star. (We meet him ogling a small television set in the marketplace, entranced by a cheap American action flick.) He works as a wheelbarrow carter, offering to haul the goods of anyone who’ll accept his services. Clients are sparse, and a douchey rival courier, Nelson (Victor Sosa, whose villainy eventually inflates to mustache-twirling proportions), is always looking to swoop in and steal Victor’s business for himself.
Victor stumbles upon an opportunity to cart around 7 boxes for 100 American dollars (their contents must remain unknown as part of the deal). Turns out the gig was originally Nelson’s, who needs the money desperately to pay for meds for his sick baby. (Any layer of humanity or sympathy this sub-subplot lends to Nelson is almost immediately wiped away and is never revisited in earnest. He’s a “big bad” through and through.) Unfortunately for him, he was late for the pick-up, hence the job being handed off to his messy-haired rival.
Nelson, along with a flock of henchmen (who are each equipped with their own carts for some incomprehensible reason–surely they only need two carts at most), begins combing the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of the market looking to nab Victor, who’s picked up an unwanted companion in his clingy, street-smart friend Liz (Lali Gonzalez). Also prowling the market are snoopy cops and a fast-footed thief; the chances of Victor keeping the crates on his rickety cart are slim and none. There are a couple of side plots interwoven with Victor’s; one involves his sister Tamara and her pregnant co-worker, and the other, much more amusing one follows the unscrupulous, Laurel and Hardy-esque owners of the titular goods.
Co-writer-directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori don’t fiddle with the classic “precious cargo” movie formula (regrettably), but they execute well. (Never once did I lose track of the overlapping story lines, no easy feat for a film with such a frenzied pace.) 7 Boxes is constantly barreling forward, and the film’s high energy can largely be attributed to DP Richard Careaga’s nimble camerawork (the oft-utilized POV shots are particularly effective in creating a sense of perpetual motion). The rollicking soundtrack adds to the picture’s forward momentum.
Plausibility rarely affects my enjoyment of a film (if a story works, it works–no need to poke holes), but the ridiculous amount of foolish decisions Victor makes are so clichéd it’s laughable. “Stay with the cart in the middle of the street while I talk to this guy, Liz. I’ll be right back–I’m sure nothing bad will happen.” Riiight. These contrived scenarios and close calls come consecutively and in great number, and it’s hard not to roll your eyes a bit at the impossibility of it all, especially in a setting this gritty and grounded.
Franco’s face doesn’t seem built to emote a wide range of emotions (at his most distressed, his jaw hangs a little lower and his eyes widen ever so slightly), but he’s appealing enough to root for. The film’s best asset is the marketplace itself, which is full of hidden paths and dark alleyways for the characters to dash through. It’s visually stimulating no matter which angle Maneglia and Schémbori shoot it from, and it always feels alive with activity. It’s a shame that, in the end, 7 Boxes‘ narrative simplicity and derivativeness dulls its impact; it’s a fun ride, but it’s one I’ve been on so many times it’s hard to justify taking another spin.