BERLIN -- Gregory Nava's "Bordertown" is several sprockets short of a real film. It wants to be a thriller, a piece of investigative journalism, a political soapbox and a vehicle for Jennifer Lopez. It serves none of these masters well. There also is something disingenuous about a movie that claims that the media on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are too afraid or corrupt to expose the hundreds of rapes and murders of Latina factory workers in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico, in recent years when the filmmaker no doubt learned about this tragic situation from countless media stories.

Such wacky thinking pervades a movie that exaggerates and overplays the elements that ripen the melodrama while ignoring a far worse reason for police and institutional failures on the border -- indifference. You can't make a thriller about indifference, of course, so everyone from cops to millionaires are black with evil, while Lopez strides through this hellhole of the western world as the only journalist brave enough to write the truth.

Just as "Trade," which debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival, turned the global sex slave trade into an excuse for a thriller with Kevin Kline coming to the rescue of a single girl, "Bordertown" trivializes a very real issue in a hokey, unconvincing and ludicrous suspenser with Lopez as the rescuer.

Theatrical prospects are limited to a quick payoff that capitalizes on Lopez and Antonio Banderas' names.

When a Chicago newspaper editor (Martin Sheen) assigns his most ambitious reporter, Lauren (Lopez), to report on the dead and missing women in Juarez, Lauren complains, "Who gives a shit about Mexico?" At that moment, you just know the story will capture her heart and get her back to her roots. But who knew that getting back to her roots meant dying her blonde hair black?

Supposedly speaking little Spanish, Lauren tries to hook up with ex-lover and colleague Diaz (Banderas), now the editor of a Juarez rag. He tells her to get lost but, wouldn't you know it, Lauren walks out his door and immediately spots the one girl every cop, criminal and reporter is looking for -- Eva (Maya Zapata), a factory worker, who survived a rape and murder attempt. Lauren's got a source! But before she and Diaz can interview Eva, the police cart Diaz off, leaving Lauren to hide Eva.

There's virtually nowhere to hide because screenwriter-director Nava has decided these killings go all the way up to the heads of multinational corporations and scions of the richest families in Juarez. So everyone is out to get Eva. Even the head of a women's rights group, Teresa (Sonia Braga), who does shelter Eva, isn't too sympathetic to her plight.

Nava then confuses journalists with movie private eyes. In the course of her "reporting," Lauren makes herself the target for the next attack, seduces a CEO and gets into two fights to the death. At one point, her lover-boy CEO brags that he buys politicians on both sides of the border. Wouldn't you think an experienced reporter would love to use that quote? Not our girl Lauren.

When she finally does file a story, it contains not one quote, fact or piece of evidence; it's simply an editorial. When her editor kills the story -- not for sloppy journalism, as he should, but because of cowardice -- she flies back to Mexico a born-again crusading reporter.

The story is replete with plot holes, but the most egregious is the central issue of whether little Eva can and will testify against her attacker. If she doesn't, he walks free. No one in the movie seems to have noticed the guy attacked Lauren, too. What prevents her from testifying?

Cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos does get the grit of the bordertown scene in his jumpy camera lens. Nighttime shots blare a riot of vibrant colors as the dusty town turns into a giant sex emporium. Good thing a Latino made this movie, though: A white director would stand accused of the worst sort of stereotypes about Mexican males, rich or poor.

Capitol Films
Screenwriter-director: Gregory Nava
Producers: Gregory Nava, Simon Fields, David Bergstein
Executive producers: Cary Epstein, Tracee Stanley Newell, Barbara Martinez Jitner, Fred Ulrich
Director of photography: Reynaldo Villalobos
Production designer: Miguel Angel Alvarez
Music: Graeme Revell
Costume designer: Elizabeth Beraldo
Editor: Padraic McKinley
Lauren Adrian: Jennifer Lopez
Diaz: Antonio Banderas
Eva: Maya Zapata
Teresa: Sonia Braga
George Morgan: Martin Sheen
Aris: Rene Rivera
Juan Diego Boto: Marco Antonio Salamanca
Elena: Kate del Castillo
Running time -- 112 minutes
No MPAA rating