IFC First Take

NEW YORK -- "Drama/Mex" is set entirely in Acapulco, Mexico, but don't expect it to set off a new surge of tourism. This relentlessly downbeat portrait of numerous troubled characters is ultimately too derivative and familiar for it to connect with art house audiences despite some effective moments and good performances by its mainly youthful cast. Executive produced by actors Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, the film is playing at New York's IFC Center.

Director-screenwriter Gerardo Naranjo focuses on five central characters: Fernanda (Diana Garcia), a beautiful young woman; Chano (Emilio Valdes), her sleazy ex-boyfriend, who ripped off her wealthy father; Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda), her current lover, who is less than happy at Chano's sudden reappearance; Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a chubby teen who hustles tourists on the beach; and Jaime (Fernando Becerril), a depressed, middle-aged man who has recently stolen his company's payroll.

The film's ever-shifting narrative, which intersects the characters' stories in less than scintillating fashion, is difficult to follow, and its underwhelming denouement does not reward the viewer's efforts. The jittery, handheld camera work, while appropriately edgy, similarly taxes one's patience.

The hotness of several members of the cast does provide fleeting compensations, especially in a torrid early sex scene between Garcia and Valdes that well displays their physical charms. Veteran Mexican actor Becerril delivers a terrifically pungent performance as the suicidal businessman, and Moro (who also served as a producer) is equally memorable as the teen with whom he forms an unlikely bond.