Zalman King has invented a new genre with “Boca”: soft-core social consciousness. A slick-looking “expose” about the epidemic of street children in Brazil conducted by a sexy young American journalist, pic resembles “Pixote” intercut with “Wild Orchid.” Clearly made with the utmost seriousness of intent (filmmakers claim Bunuel’s “Los Olvidados” as their inspiration), this aesthetic hodgepodge would meet with critical slaughter if released theatrically, so cable and video look like the natural destination.
Listed in the Toronto fest catalog as the work of one Rene Manzor, film in fact has no director of record and is a mongrel creation culled from numerous sources. Considerable footage was included from a 1990 Brazilian film, “Boca de ouro” (“Golden Mouth”), first feature by TV director Walter Avancini (who receives a “contributing director” credit here), adapted from a Nelson Rodrigues play staged in 1962 by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, who originally intended to helm the film version. Additional material came from a local documentary as well as from “Wild Orchid,” and new scenes were shot with the principal actors, including Brazilian star Tarcisio Meira, who here repeats his performance in the title role of the 1990 film, only this time in English.
Despite the multitude of parents, there can be no doubt as to the identity of the film’s true auteur. No matter how passionately (and naively) the cause of Rio’s orphans is argued, it’s as if King can’t help himself, as he constantly returns to such diversions as Rae Dawn Chong in the throes of wild sex, a debauched orgiastic ritual, or a “best tits” contest between a gangster’s tarts and some local women conducted at an enormous garbage dump. Rarely has a filmmaker had such a mixed-up idea of what his intended audience might be.
Surviving a bloody massacre, shaken U.S. TV reporter JJ (Chong) sits down to record on tape the story of what’s happened to her. In flashback, she’s shown joining a former flame, photog Reb (Martin Kemp), and trying to find out who’s behind the death squads that are killing the city’s street kids.
After uselessly interviewing government authorities, she heads into the favela to meet Boca (Meira), a slum native who raised himself up to become a crime kingpin. Decked out with a full set of gold choppers, Boca is a ruthless killer without a conscience, but seems to be fighting his own battle to save the children from the thugs enlisted by local businessmen to get rid of the ragamuffins, who scare away visitors and customers.
Subject is certainly urgent and dramatic, but material has been shaped by King and “Red Shoe Diaries” scripter Ed Silverstein into something that’s both sensationalistic and soft-minded. Killings and sex scenes are replayed repeated in slo-mo and wallowing detail, while the righteous U.S. liberal played by Chong lectures every Brazilian she can corner about how awful it is that they’re not personally solving the problem of the children.
Naturally, all this unfolds during carnival, providing even more opportunity to show skin. But it’s not all travelogue stuff; one major plus is the location lensing way up the hillsides in Rio’s impoverished favelas, which can’t have been easy to pull off.
Chong throws herself into her role with deadly earnest, while Meira projects unshakable authority as the crime lord. Martin Sheen is in for a couple of scenes as the knowing local CIA operative.