When MTV Latin America honcho Ricardo de Montreuil made his first film, “La Mujer de Mi Hermano,” I thought (and wrote): Here is a man who ought to be making TV movies for Lifetime or Telemundo. His follow-up, the generic coming-of-age story “Máncora,” is more of the same — selfish, gorgeous people having sex and lying to one another while undergoing a bland process of self-discovery.
Were it not for the sex and drugs, “Máncora” would be a completely forgettable movie. Never underestimate the power of sex and drugs to spice up an otherwise useless picture!
It’s set in Peru (de Montreuil’s native land), where Santiago (Jason Day) is a club-hopping, heavy-partying 22-year old who is having sex with an anonymous woman in a public restroom when he gets the call that his father has died. Wanting a break from Lima, he decides to take a road trip to the beach town of Máncora, where he can clear his head and do a lot of drugs and have some more sex with strangers — you know, the usual grieving process. The first stage is denial, the second is anger, the third is cocaine.
Before Santiago can take off, he’s visited by his beautiful stepsister Xime (Elsa Pataky) and her new husband Iñigo (Enrique Murciano). They live in New York but have flown to Lima to see Santiago. He has rewarded them for their concern by planning to leave town immediately after their arrival.
Xime is sunny and friendly; Iñigo is impulsive and petulant. Improbably, they accompany Santiago on his trip, and the three of them pick up a hitchhiker along the way named Batú (Phellipe Haagensen), a hippie surfer dude who — get this — offers wise philosophical advice in the manner of all hippie surfer dudes in movies.
A romantic triangle develops between Santiago, Xime, and Iñigo. Santiago and Xime are not blood relatives, so their lustfulness is creepy but not entirely taboo. All three of them behave abominably in some way or another; watching them is a bit like watching MTV’s “The Real World,” where you have only scorn and contempt for the characters but kind of enjoy seeing them act like a-holes anyway.
I said “kind of.” The glossy cinematography, paradisiacal setting, and Banana Republic-model cast are fine to look at for a while, but the film has no depth, and the acting is nothing more than serviceable. De Montreuil (working from a screenplay by three newcomers) keeps a languid, listless pace, too, maintaining a moody atmosphere and little else.
Santiago finally realizes that he can’t run away from his problems and it’s time to grow up, a message that 1) is obvious and 2) is nothing we haven’t heard before. Not every film has to be completely unique, of course, but usually it’s the interesting characters who add freshness to a familiar theme. These people are just high-cheekboned stick figures.
C- (1 hr., 40 min.; Spanish with subtitles; )