In the grim crime story "City of Dead Men," Diego Boneta plays Michael, a cash-strapped, globe-hopping American who makes the mistake that so many gringos do in genre pictures: He trusts an exotic lady promising something too good to be true. Michael gets involved with a group of rebellious Colombian kids who provide him with a home and a purpose before revealing a darker motive.
Producer Alejo Arango, screenwriter Andrew Poston, and director Kirk Sullivan based "City of Dead Men" on the experiences of actual young folks who grew up in Medellín under the threat of being shot by drug-lords and responded by becoming more decadent. At its best, the movie captures the real-life fearlessness of an entire generation, as experienced firsthand by the awestruck Michael, who becomes a willing disciple of a good-time guru named Jacob (Jackson Rathbone) and his beautiful right-hand woman, Melody (Maria Mesa).
But perhaps not trusting the dramatic potential of truth, the filmmakers layer in elements of psychodrama (via Michael sharing drugs with his new friends) and supernatural horror (via an abandoned psychiatric hospital where a lot of the action takes place).
So while "City of Dead Men" has an appealingly polished look and uses its unusual locations thoughtfully, it teeters on the edge of pretension. It seems to want to be an artful social statement when it might have been better had it been trashier and more overtly terrifying — more "Hostel" than "City of God."
'City of Dead Men'
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood