As if in imitation of the ruthless Mexican drug cartel its heroes go after, director Stefano Sollima’s sequel decapitates, disembowels, and castrates Denis Villeneuve’s beautiful, tough, and sad 2015 original. Head: what had been a smart take on the difficulty of doing right even when you’re righteous — particularly when it comes to drug wars — here becomes an action movie that merely uses the border as a setting, full of talking heads (televised and otherwise), coincidental meetings, and inexplicable motives. (Why exactly does the young feller from a loving home sign on with the murderous bad guys?) Guts: the stony-hearted operatives from the first go-round — Josh Brolin’s government heavy and Benicio Del Toro’s cartel agent — go weirdly, uncharacteristically soft. (The first film established what Del Toro’s character thinks of cartel kiddies.) Cojones: never mind having the courage of the first film’s convictions, how about just having the courage of your executions? There’s plenty of gore and sentiment to cover over the flaws, but nothing approaching the horror of the first film’s house with walls full of bodies, or the heartbreak of the heroine’s final confrontation. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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