Failing to fulfill the promise of his stunning 2002 documentary Bus 174, José Padilha succumbs to monotonous, hollow flamboyance with his City of God clone Elite Squad. Co-written by God scribe Bráulio Mantovani, Padilha’s film peeks into Rio de Janeiro’s crime-ridden slums via the viewpoint of the police and, specifically, the BOPE special forces unit that fascistically combats crime and recruits members via a dehumanizing training system. Padilha strives to complicate his portrait of the unit as murderous, torturing thugs by focusing on Nascimento (Wagner Moura), a high-strung BOPE captain desperate to find his replacement and leave the BOPE and whose tense home life with a pregnant wife reveals the toll his profession takes on his psyche. Padilha, however, can’t let his narrative speak for itself, structuring the film around Nascimento’s dreary (and detachment-fostering) narration, which explicitly explains not only every one of his thoughts, emotions and motivations, but also those of the two recruits – wild man Neto (Caio Junqueira) and law student Matias (Andre Ramiro) – whom he hopes will assume his position. Through Matias’ relationship with a liberal, activist schoolmate (as well as his clunky classroom arguments), Elite Squad schematically lays out the racial and economic issues inherent in Rio’s problems. Such topics, however, are deprived of any gravity by the director’s entertain-first, edify-second decision to paint his uniformly schematic, unsympathetic characters – who, whether they be cops, the poor, dealers, or pot-smoking students, are all fingered as culpable for the city’s troubles – in one coarse shade. And the film’s aim to be a Latin American Battle of Algiers is sabotaged by Padilha’s flashy sub-Fernando Meirelles aesthetic (extreme color palette, whiplash handheld cinematography, spastic editing), which reveals a desire not for profound inquiry into serious subject matter but, rather, for base titillation.