Eric Eason’s followup to his much-feted, zero-budgeted “Manito” is a sleazy fever dream of sex, violence, drugs and nastiness as two American expatriates (Brendan Fraser and Scott Glenn) try to claw their way out of the fleshpots of Sao Paolo. “Journey to the End of the Night,” while fueled by the same high-octane kineticism and runaway nightmare logic as Eason’s indie debut, lacks the earlier film’s pathos and tension, since, with the exception of Mos Def’s personable Nigerian dishwasher, the characters are cold and unlikable. Garish, color-saturated actioner seems too low-brow for arthouses and too Third World for general release.
A drug deal — engineered by brothel owner Rosso (Glenn) as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape to a better life with his young wife Angie (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and their 5-year-old son — sets off chain reactions in all directions. The setup, however, is derailed by Rosso’s older son Paul (Fraser), a degenerate gambler who schemes to double-cross his father and abscond with the money, Rosso’s wife and the son (who may in fact be his).
When the deal’s designated mule keels over dead while boffing a transvestite prostitute, dishwasher Wemba (Def) is pressed into service to make the exchange while the now-imploded family waits at the brothel.
Though the main characters walk through the drama in a manner appropriate to their triangular Oedipal situation, the mythic resonance of the film lies elsewhere. Strange figures — a transvestite hooker (Matheus Natcheragaele), a blind soothsayer (Ruy Polanah), and a lovely young woman (Alice Braga) whose death has already been foreseen by the soothsayer — skirt the action, destined to play roles in pic’s all-fall-down finale.
Oddly, though much of the film takes place outdoors, Eason shows little of the city. The film focuses instead on the energy radiating out then re-converging on the brothel, with the streets only used as pathways or dead ends on the route to that center.
Tech credits are deliberately down-and-dirty, Ulrich Burtin’s grainy 35mm lensing and the lurid hues of Chico De Andrade’s production design giving the action’s compressed timeframe a gritty, up-all-night feel.