Even for a proud B movie, this is ridiculous: Gonzalo Lopéz-Gallego’s The Hollow Point imagines a small town on the U.S.-Mexican border where the only Latino person is a cartel plant (John Leguizamo) sent to murder the white folks who sold the Mexicans bullets. The script, written by newcomer Nils Lyew, seems to be an amalgam of Breaking Bad and No Country for Old Men, with a cartoonish portrayal of border life gleaned from pop culture, not experience — despite the film’s text opening suggesting that this is the real story behind the very real arms-smuggling crisis. Lopéz-Gallego, the Spanish director whose thrilling Open Grave wowed at Tribeca in 2014, ultimately forgets to focus on the humanity that might have enriched this needlessly twisty crime story.
Sheriff Wallace (Patrick Wilson) returns to his hometown of Los Reyes, Arizona, after its own booze-swilling Sheriff Leland (Ian McShane) has a deadly run-in with a lowlife ammunition runner trying to get to Mexico. Leland tells Wallace the men he’s about to face are dangerous animals — going by the book won’t keep him alive. The story that follows isn’t by the book, either. It’s nonsense about the Mexicans wanting revenge (for exactly what I’m still not sure) and vowing to wreak havoc. Also, a waitress named Marla (Lynn Collins) wants to know what she has to do to become the kind of woman Wallace won’t leave a second time, and Jim Belushi plays a shady Hispanic car dealer named Diaz.
Lyew kills the story with implausible twists, but he does craft some effective, original set pieces. One moment has Wallace blowtorching a carburetor in a suspect’s truck to look for evidence; the bullets hidden inside get heated to combustion and start shooting all over the place. The lawman gets tossed into a construction pit and buried in bags of dry cement, so he has to escape before Atticus (Leguizamo) soaks him in water and lets him dry out. Moments like these recall the work of Shane Black circa 1987, where a gun was the most boring weapon a criminal could carry.
Wilson and Collins dutifully play the gender roles written for them, with the former doing an admirable Marlboro Man impression as he leans against any fencepost, doorjamb, or beam that’ll have him as Wallace tells Marla over and over that he didn’t leave because she let him down. (Jesus, Marla, get over it!) It’s not clear why these two would even like each other, outside of their being the most attractive people in town, and Marla’s obvious beauty also makes it difficult to believe that she somehow had a relationship with a very scuzzy dude named Ken (David H. Stevens), who gets offed pretty quickly.
There are glimpses of Lopéz-Gallego’s talent that can be seen in artful shots, as when a truck speeds through the Sonoran brush, kicking up dust in blue-tinted waves that look like the ocean from above, as the sun sets in the distance. But this director also needs a full story. And this ain’t that — the point of this film really is hollow.