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Capsule movie reviews

Also reviewed: 'Dog Sweat,' 'Elite Squad: The Enemy Within,' 'The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch,' 'Incendiary: The Willingham Case' and 'Laredoans Speak: Voices on Immigration.'

November 18, 2011
  • Tahereh Azadi (Katie) and Mohamadreza Sadeghi (Bijan) in "Dog Sweat."
Tahereh Azadi (Katie) and Mohamadreza Sadeghi (Bijan) in "Dog Sweat." (Deluxe Art Films / Deluxe…)

Young adults are caught between Old World tradition and personal fulfillment in "Dog Sweat," a multistrand feature set in Tehran and shot there surreptitiously. Whatever personal risks first-time director Hossein Keshavarz took to make the film, there's little sense of danger in the finished product, which offers snapshots of middle-class Iran but falls flat on the dramatic front.

Rebellion takes various forms for the characters. Three pals seek black-market alcohol, or "dog sweat." A young woman records a song — secretly, because female singers are banned. A student returns home from stateside film school to find his feminist sister involved with a married man, and their mother trying to keep her locked in the house.

The most nuanced performance belongs to Rahim Zamani as Homan, who can only watch as his boyfriend gives in to parental pressure to marry. This year's "Circumstance" — directed by Keshavarz's sister, and on which he served as an associate producer — explored a similar turn of events from the distaff side. "Dog Sweat" has less emotional effect because the crosscutting among characters has a diluting effect. They emerge not as full-blooded individuals but as symbols of yearning youth, at odds with a repressive society.

If "Dog Sweat" simplifies the cultural push-pull its characters face, at its strongest, and saddest, it makes plain that "battling the world," as one character puts it, can prove too much, even for youthful, educated rebels.

—Sheri Linden

"Dog Sweat." No MPAA rating. In Persian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

A tough cop gets a wake-up call

Like a police force committed to public reinvention after being chastened for its tactics, the Brazilian action sequel "Elite Squad: The Enemy Within" hopes to answer charges that the first "Elite Squad" movie was little more than a fascistic glorification of violent slum cleansing by take-no-prisoners authorities.

This time around, righteous Nascimento (Wagner Moura) encounters a wake-up call regarding the moral costs of his law enforcement philosophy. His controversial success in brutally quashing drug dealers unwittingly opens a window for the dirty cops and politicians who profited from the drug trade to take their place in the slums as direct extortionists.

Complexity isn't this movie's buzzword, though. So fueled by indignation is "Elite Squad: The Enemy Within" — the highest-grossing film in Brazil's history, and its entry in the foreign film Oscar race — that it resembles a flow chart splattered with blood and spittle, more static and smeary in tone than the finger-pointing corrective director-cowriter Jose Padilha intended.

It's hard to reconcile this blunt instrument with Padilha's documentary work, notably his rich, organically tense and emotionally focused documentary "Bus 174." Here, realism is a shaky camera in one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, and a few harangues about corridors-of-power corruption.

The rest is an adrenaline ride, but one more wearying than eye-opening.

—Robert Abele

"Elite Squad: The Enemy Within." No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

Avenging death of not-so-dear dad

If "The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch" plays like a graphic novel, it's because it is based on writer Jean Van Hamme's "Largo Winch" series, enormously popular in Belgium and France.

The briskly paced action adventure, directed by Jerome Salle from Julien Rappeneau's script, rips through a thicket of corporate intrigue as the story moves back and forth in time. There are plenty of twists and just as many bad guys speaking in a wide variety of accents. It's handsome, large-scale escapist fare — and has as its costar the formidable, versatile Kristin Scott Thomas.

Set in Croatia and Hong Kong, with a stopover in Mato Grosso, Brazil, "Heir Apparent" turns upon a volatile father-and-son relationship. Can it be an accident that a Hong Kong-based tycoon, Nerio Winch (Miki Manojlovic, star of notable Emir Kusturica films), died in a suspicious drowning just as heretofore undisclosed adopted son Largo (a brooding, rugged Tomer Sisley) finds himself in a Mato Grosso prison, framed for drug-dealing?

Upon Nerio's death his steely, trusted second in command (Thomas, sporting a severe blond wig and dark power suits) discloses the existence of Largo — and her determination to hold together Nerio's conglomerate and fend off a takeover. At this point the film takes off with Largo, a superb martial artist, in flurry of heroics nicely balanced by flashbacks to his adoption by Nerio that reveal Largo's growing distaste for his father. Largo may not love Nerio or crave his riches, but he's certain his father was murdered.

Thomas is just as enjoyable and authoritative in this mainstream fare as she is in more serious films. She might not play the title character, but she gets the movie's ironic last line.

—Kevin Thomas

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