Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lucy Hale, Leynar Gomez, Nicholas Gonzalez, Olivia Trujillo, Jorge A. Jimenez, Jaime Aymerich, Edward J. Bentley, Brendan McNamee
Written by: Jesse Harris
Directed by: Jesse Harris
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 102
Date: 01/14/2022

Borrego (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Waste Land

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It doesn't always work, especially when cutting away from its two main characters, but this sun-baked, anti-drug desert-survival thriller is solid enough at its center to make it worth a look.

Botanist Elly (Lucy Hale) is doing a plant survey in the desert outside of San Diego. The rebellious daughter (Olivia Trujillo) of a deputy sheriff (Nicholas Gonzalez) helps her for an afternoon, but leaves when darkness falls. Then, Elly sees a plane crash-land nearby. Running to check, she discovers a huge delivery of illegal drugs, and finds herself held at gunpoint by drug-runner Tomas (Leynar Gomez). He demands that Elly take him to the Salton Sea.

After Elly's truck crashes, they must continue on foot. Meanwhile, when the drugs do not arrive at their appointed destination, the murderous Guillermo (Jorge A. Jimenez) heads out looking for them. A pair of unexpected murders also brings the sheriff into this desert cat-and-mouse game. Who will survive?

Borrego seems serious about its main theme, depicting how drugs can destroy lives, but it's a tad uneven; it sometimes loses track of that message while wrapping up its thriller plot. Moreover, the main villain, depicted as an angry, murderous psychopath, is a little too generic, while the deputy sheriff feels only half-drawn, and is a little on the ineffective side. The sheriff's daughter, likewise, is painted as not much more than a typical rebellious teen, with little else to go on.

On the plus side, Elly and Tomas make an interesting team. Even though he first appears as a threat, nothing more than a drug-smuggler with a gun, we slowly begin to see his human side, and his moments of kindness and humility. They even open up to one another in a few touching moments. Yet they can never get too friendly, as Elly tries to escape whenever she can, and Tomas must prevent her. The relationship springs to life via this tension, and the actors respond with solid performances.

Additionally, Borrego makes fine use of its outdoor locations, employing darkness and light, sun and shade, canyons and flatlands — and even desert flowers — to create effective drama and visual conflict.

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