Kusina Kings is about best friends Benjie and Ronnie (Empoy Marquez and Zanjoe Marudo), who open a restaurant together. Unfortunately, they find trouble trying to bring people into their place. Desperate, Benjie joins the Kusina King competition, where he has to go up against the more successful restaurateur Gian Nyeam (Ryan Bang), risking losing his restaurant for a chance to win three million pesos. Before he can compete, though, he falls into a coma. Benjie wakes up as a disembodied spirit, and only Ronnie can see him. Ronnie, who doesn’t really know how to cook, ends up having to take his Benjie’s place, getting some ghostly guidance from his comatose best friend.
The dramatic crux of this movie lies in the relationship between the two best friends. The real story being told, beyond the Iron Chef-style framing of the movie, is how Benjie learns to stop treating his best friend as an inferior. To this end, the movie doesn’t really do a great job of selling this narrative. There’s just so little in the script that points to this conclusion, the movie never really getting around to having these friends confront these issues. But, taken purely as a gag delivery machine, Kusina Kings displays a real flair for the absurd.
It is always difficult to break down what makes something funny. On paper, this movie has a lot of the same kind of lowbrow gags common to every Star Cinema comedy. There is, for example, a scene where a character quotes a line from another Star Cinema film. But soon enough, the movie starts to color outside the lines, going sillier and stranger than one might be expecting. It’s also just a matter of timing. Often, it just feels like the movie is willing to linger a little longer in a joke, letting the absurdity seep in before moving on.
The end result still feels pretty uneven, the overall looseness of the plot keeping the film from gaining any real momentum. But it does not lack for funny moments. There are bits where the movie displays an uncommon capacity to surprise. There is a joke, for example, that is set up in the first act, and pays off well into the middle of the movie. It’s kind of a dumb joke, but there is some sophistication in the construction. It creates a sense that there is some design to the movie, even though most of it feels like it was being made up as they went along.
The movie gains a lot from the comedic talents of its cast. Empoy Marquez doesn’t have the deepest bag of tricks, but he’s good at what he does. More impressive is Zanjoe Marudo, who often manages to sell the jokes without going too big, all while displaying an impressive affinity for physical comedy. Nathalie Hart and Maxine Medina are mostly asked to oversell everything, and to their credit, they fully embrace every bit of silliness that’s thrown at them.
Kusina Kings, when all is said and done, is pretty clunky. The story doesn’t get enough focus, a lot of the jokes are stale, and the movie as a whole as this terrible habit of explaining its gags. But there are pieces here and there that thrillingly break away from familiar comedic paradigms. It doesn’t really get to go far enough in that direction, but the few steps it manages to take lead to some genuinely inspired bits. And with the help of an equally committed cast, it becomes a little easier to accept the overall shakiness of the movie. If nothing else, it offers up the potential of some better things to come.