“Perdida” is sort of an Argentinian Girl with the Mermaid Tattoo,” a human trafficking thriller built around a compelling lead performance by Luisana Lopilato.
It begins promisingly, features striking Patagonian and Canary Islands locations and some brutal brawl for your life fights. But no mystery thriller you can figure out before the midway point can claim total success, no action pic that saves the heroine from certain death with the devices this one uses can cling to believability.
It begins with a fruitless search party in the Patagonian snow. A teenage girl has gone missing.
Fourteen years later one of the other girls from that class field trip to a volcano is now the fiercest cop on the human trafficking beat. Pipa is now going by her given name, Manuela (Lopilato). We meet her as she stalks a guy, climbs through a window into his house, saves a newly-trapped teen and beats the living Infierno out of the kidnapper.
“You can’t save them all,” (in Spanish, with English subtitles, or dubbed) her boss (Rafael Spregelburd) grouses. Being a cop who breaks rules, busts heads and gets her man, Manuela doesn’t hear him.
The case that derailed her life and then redirected it comes back into play at the memorial mass for the missing girl. Somebody placed a “How’d they get that?” photo of her as she was back then, in the church. Somebody has been publishing touching obituaries. Manuela is guilted by mother of the “perdida” (lost girl) into reopening the case.
Over her boss’s objections, of course.
There is a third timeline the viewer is privy to, ill-used prostitutes about to be buried in a banana plantation in the Canary Islands. The one with the mermaid tattoo talks herself out of being murdered.
As Manuela starts asking questions, starts employing her junkie/hacker buddy (Oriana Sabatini) and trying to figure out two faces she didn’t know at this memorial (a feral Amaia Salamanca and a brutish Carlos Alcántara).
The friends that were on that trip with her are no help, “Cornelia got lost. A puma ate her. She died.” That’s that. They’ve moved on.
But the mystery couple, given to violence and answering to a monstrous overlord known only as “The Eyptian,” are getting worried. Because The Egyptian (Pedro Casablanc) is starting to sweat about what Manuela knows and what she might find out.
“A woman’s secrets and lies are more important than her own life,” he declares.
Co-writer/director Alejandro Montiel is still best-known for the behind-the-scenes musical “Eight Weeks” in North America, but there are a couple of badly-reviewed thrillers also on his Argentinian resume.
Working from a Florencia Etcheves novel, he juggles first two timelines, then three and then adds a fourth, stripping the mysterious out of this mystery, explaining how Pipa grew up to be Manuela, a fury in cargo pants, and showing all his cards entirely too soon.
Lopilato under-reacts, here and there, but for a slip of a thing, she packs a fierce punch. She’s got her hands on a fascinating character and she gives Manuela pathos, toughness and a temper.
More’s the pity that the mystery she’s struggling to solve is given away, pretty much, by the script and direction that tends toward the melodramatic, long before the closing credits.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Luisana Lopilato, Amaia Salamanca, Carlos Alcántara, Rafael Spregelburd
Credits:Directed by Alejandro Montiel , script by Jorge Maestro, Mili Roque Pitt and Alejandro Montiel, based on the novel by Florencia Etcheves. A Bowfinger/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:43