At first, Gerardo Naranjo's sophomore feature, Drama/Mex, seems entirely beholden to the multi-character, multi-plotline tapestry-weaving of his countryman Alejandro González Iñárritu. The film takes place over the course of 24 hours on one ratty Acapulco beach, as upper-class teen Diana Garcia has rough sexual encounters with ex-boyfriend Emilio Valdés, while Garcia's current boyfriend, Juan Pablo Castaneda, roams the streets looking to kick Valdés' ass. Meanwhile, suicidal businessman Fernando Becerril is engaged in a reluctant flirtation with teen prostitute Miriana Moro, who reminds him of the daughter he's been molesting. In many ways, Drama/Mex is a typical Iñárritu-style mélange of souls in crisis, bouncing off each other in unexpected ways.

The difference is that while Iñárritu shoots Guillermo Arriaga's weighty scripts in a self-consciously arty style, Naranjo shoots his own script more loosely, in a performance-driven style reminiscent of the French New Wave, John Cassavetes, and mid-'80s American independent film. Naranjo eschews symbolism-fraught cross-cutting, and instead lets individual scenes play on, riding the emotional swells. This pays off from Drama/Mex's very first sequence, in which Garcia is at first mortified that Valdés has tracked her down at a beachside café, then angry that he's followed her back to her house, then frightened when he starts to sexually assault her, then aroused, and then spent, unsure how much affection she should show to this lunkhead.

Drama/Mex has an overheated plot, but it plays out at a low boil, mainly because Naranjo is more interested in the subtle stresses of human interaction than in shrill desperation. Garcia and Valdés' "Now that we've had sex, what should we do?" mini-crisis is typical of a movie in which the characters are constantly wondering how much intimacy is required of them. Even when Becerril first meets Moro—as she's lounging around a motel patio, sucking on drops of hot sauce—he tries to avoid her predatory prostitute's "Hello." He's a man who knows the danger of getting too involved with the young, and he's come up with his own solution: Just don't engage.