Film Review: City of Dead Men

That portentously pretentious title is just a hint of how bad this ode to living on the youthful edge in Colombia really is.
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Michael (Diego Boneta) arrives in Medellín, Colombia, the latest stop for this itinerant, globetrotting American youth who is running away from certain demons. Just about broke, he meets Melody (Maria Mesa), a comely local lass who introduces him to Jacob (Jackson Rathbone), the leader of a band of radically minded misfits called “the Dead Men,” who live and wildly party 24/7 in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Michael accepts their offer of hospitality and friendship, but soon feels vibrations of evil doings in the hospital’s past. What’s more, there is the disturbing fact that Melody and Justin seem to believe they are immortal and are forever acting that out in highly dangerous ways.

Producer Alejo Arango, screenwriter Andrew Poston and all-too-obvious first-time director Kirk Sullivan based City of Dead Men on the experiences of actual youths who grew up in Medellín, forever under the threat of being killed by drug lords and responding by living as decadently as they could. Although the film wants desperately to be hipper-than-thou—with its adoring depictions of the skater/raver/squatter scene in Colombia, it seems decidedly undecided as to exactly what it wants to be and is therefore a garish mess: part travelogue, thriller, psychodrama and horror pic (vide some pretty cheesy effects and echoes of Village of the Damned in those hollow-eyed hospital residents). Joshua Reis contributes some impressively flashy cinematography, while the obligatory electronic music pounds on the soundtrack, whether you like it or not.

The brooding Boneta, although very handsome, appears to be rather wan and lacking in the requisite human force any screen hero needs, while the also very comely Rathbone is forever rubbing his hands with glee over his latest nefarious scheme. Their climactic conflict has all the excitement of a cat show, clumsily staged—with, like so much here, a surfeit of violence—but the main reason for the ennui is that you really don’t care a fig about either of them. Mesa shows some spunk as “the Girl” in these circumstances, but her role, again like so much here, is nonsensical.

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