Do you practice Santeria?

It's a very familiar theme in film to find youngsters in trouble and getting in over their heads. Are we, even as adults who author and consume such fare, relating to some vulnerable side of ourselves, uncertain what life is going to throw at us next?

In Rhythm of the Saints, we have young Latina Rena, who right off the bat we can tell is trying to disappear from view, simply by the way she dresses - that baggy hip-hop style that de-emphesizes any hint of the feminine. She could easily be mistaken for a boy as she walks around her New York neighborhood.

Why she hides her body like this becomes apparent very quickly. Her mother's live-in boyfriend, Ricky, looks at Rena like a wolf about to pounce on a juicy steak. He only seems restrained when Rena's mom is around, and it's clear when he slips her money exactly what kind of silence he is buying from her.

Rena's closest friend has become fascinated with Santeria - the strange comingling of African spirit-worship and Catholicism (Santeria literally means "the way of the Saints") found in some Cuban-American communities. At first, Rena only dabbles in it, but after one last run-in with Ricky, a battered Rena decides to call on the spirits for revenge.

Enter Rena's newest friend, rasta-haired white boy Zane. Both being peripheral figures in their school, they get along pretty well, and help each other out. When Zane discovers what has happened, he gets his own ideas, steals a gun from some mobster types he knows, and his intention to merely scare Ricky goes quite conveniently awry, leaving a horrible mess for everyone left to survive.

I say convenient because the situation can easily be described as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, as a scripted film, things are going to happen as a higher power - namely, the writer - wants it. Yet, the psychology of belief is a very compelling subject, and I'd love to have seen addressed here. Alas, they stick to their established themes of guilt and forgiveness - which can be interesting enough, but are fairly standard for the genre.

Perhaps it's my own personal bias, but I feel the script played it a bit on the safe side in general. While the material is "edgy" and having that universal quality at the same time. The acting seems to come readily enough for the leads, something easily attributed to these well known, well experienced themes. So, when I say the movie is familiar, that's not to say it's bad, merely that we won't be that surprised by it.

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