The best way to describe Tandem is that it is like the love child of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and Erik Matti’s On The Job. In a way, it takes the the 80’s sensibilities of the former and blends it with a plot involving the corruption and the political machinations of those in power, similar to the latter’s. Sadly though, like many celebrity offsprings, Tandem is just not as good as its “parents.” There is potential to it, it’s actually not that bad, but, in the end it just lacks that push, that level of quality, to be truly considered great.
Directed by King Palisoc and written by Mikhail Red and Zig Marasigan, Tandem tells the story of brothers, Roman (Nico Antonio) and Rex (JM de Guzman), who work as low level riding-in-tandem robbers in the seedy streets of Metro Manila. After a botched heist, the two are inadvertently drawn deeper into the criminal underworld as a police syndicate blackmails them to work as high-profile hitmen. This, ultimately, puts a test on both their resolve and their relationships.
Right off the bat, Tandem makes it clear that it is not a crime tale that focuses on the heist itself, it is one that puts family and relationships on the forefront. It does not dwell on the preparations and planning of their big score, instead it showcases the pressure their type of lifestyle puts on their lives, the ramifications on their relationships as they’re entangled more and more in the web of crime. It is this theme that, ultimately, serves as the core of the film and where it truly shines – largely due in part to the actors’ chemistry.
Chemistry plays a huge role in solidifying, overall, Tandem’s character dynamics. Nico Antonio and JM de Guzman’s portrayals of Roman and Rex, brothers who are two sides of the same coin, feel genuine and at the same time rooted in history — both good and bad. Roman is the weathered older brother who’s done his time and is now just trying to keep on the down low; while Rex is the more brash, hot-heated, young gun who’s aching to fully embrace the whole bad boy persona. One brother wants the other to get a reality check, to be more pragmatic; the other wants to see his brother unneutered and become more than a shadow of the man he once was. Their constant tug-of-war to meet halfway serves as the fuel of their loving yet rivalrous relationship. Never once in the movie are they glorified for their criminality, but what the movie does is show them for what they are — human.
Asides the acting of the two lead characters, Rochelle Pangilinan’s performance deserves attention as well, as she is quite the revelation here. She sheds her whole Sex Bomb image and just dissolves into the character of Roman’s weary housewife, Cha. Through each delivery, there is that emotion of sacrifice — that putting up to the pain because of faith and love — that feels very heartfelt. Her character’s the one you’ll arguably feel the most for throughout the entire movie.
Tandem though begins to stumble as it hesitates in fully deciding whether to stick to the personal story it was initially telling or to dive head first and explore the conspiracies and plotting in the undertow of police corruption. Ultimately though, it fails to follow through at any of these paths and strands itself in the crossroads. This takes the attention away from the earlier interactions and character development and throws us instead into surface-level scratching of bigger themes never truly explored. It was as if the story direction realized midway exploration that things may just get too complicated and decided to pull back last minute…and we witness this all on-screen. It’s no help either that Allan Paule and Paolo O’hara’s corrupt cops are as clichéd as they can be. (Can anyone guess what their first conversation in the film’s about? If you guessed hiring prostitutes and extorting snack money, good job! Nothing says bad bloated cops like cheap sex and food.)
Luckily though, this lack of focus is still served enjoyable by the kinetic cinematography of Pong Ignacio. Thus, when things are kicked into high-gear, especially mid-film, THINGS GET KICKED INTO HIGH-GEAR. Everything just feels fast-paced and the use wide pans give even the simplest of sequences tension and energy. Couple this dynamism with Tandem’s electric score and the movie feels like a cool throwback to the 80s. There are minor chinks in the chain though as for a movie that heavily features tandem bike riding, their bike stunts are pretty below par and to compensate, during stunts like quicks 180 turns, shots jarringly pull out of the action but again, as I said, it’s pretty minor.
Tandem is far from a bad movie, in actuality it is pretty solidly made. It is just quite frustrating that it does not take a step further and elevate its potential. The seeds are there but by the end of the movie’s run time it just didn’t bear much fruit. It leaves you hungry, hanging, and wanting for more. Maybe if it could have pushed itself further, maybe gave us a few more minutes with its story and characters, things could have been overall more satisfying and memorable.