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City of Men 

Teen drama set in the Rio de Janiero's slums

Acerola and Laranjinha are teen-age best friends, raised in the same hillside favela above Rio de Janiero. Each struggles to stay clear of the neighborhood's violent drug gangs, but the two young fatherless men may be doomed by inescapable circumstances. But like its similar, but flashier predecessor City of God (whose director produced this film), Paulo Morelli's City of Men can't break out of its action-oriented, crime-drama structure. Here, the violence of the lads' lives feels calculated to move the plot -- there's a coincidental turf war absorbing most of the secondary characters -- rather than integral or pervasive. And like God, City of Men works mightily to make its young protagonists upbeat and winning, though without much context. (This film was spun off from a 20-part TV series that presumably offered much more background.) Having likable, even noble teens to root for means no guilty aftertaste for viewers. But this also compromises the film's power to convey the hopelessness and anger that is the real narrative catalyst for such have-not children living adjacent to Rio's haves. In Portuguese, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Feb. 29. (AH)

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