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MOVIE REVIEW

Flawed 'Haven' offers sex, drugs, silly roles

I'm not sure who's running the Cayman Islands travel bureau, but they should be relieved to know that their home can withstand ``Haven," Frank E. Flowers' s silly little thriller.

The title comes from the Caymans' reputation as a tropical tax-free zone. And the place still looks like a sensual paradise, even while beset by sweat-suited gangstas and white-collar crooks.

The movie does have acrobatic camera work, nervous editing, a flashy cast, and an alluringly skanky vibe. The story is salad-tossed (the action and characters of the first 20 minutes have no immediate bearing on the long, non-chronological segment that follows), but as a writer-director, Flowers is aces with the local criminal details.

The drug dealers, for instance, deliver their pot in Doritos bags (try licking that dust off your fingers), the spliffs are cigar-size , and the cute young American blondes are coked up and jaded to the max. The newest arrival is Pippa (Agnes Bruckner). Her father (Bill Paxton) just Reynolds-wrapped a million dollars to his tummy and fled the Miami feds in a curdled money-laundering scheme.

On her first day on the island, Pippa meets Fritz (Victor Rasuk), a sexy little toughie with Sean Paul cornrows and Bow Wow attitude. She finds him in her bed and accompanies him to a house party, where Fritz tells the local kingpin (Razaaq Adoti), who wants the kid to pay up, about her daddy's stash.

Meanwhile (it's a good long while, too), British local boy Shy (Orlando Bloom) is sneaking out of windows to be with Andrea (Zoe Saldana). He cleans boats for her daddy's company, and dad (Robert Wisdom), naturally, disapproves. Andrea's brother, Hammer (Anthony Mackie), intends revenge. Inspired by a classroom chemistry lesson, he throws acid in Shy's pretty face. (Oh, Hammer, you hurt him.)

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Four months pass, and everybody's worse off. Shy is ugly (well, as ugly as a little burn makeup can make Bloom seem). Andrea is slutty (she wants sex all the time, with anybody). And Hammer is a hard - core thug.

Mackie does all the overacting he didn't get to in his far more eloquent work as a drug dealer in ``Half Nelson," a superior movie that you're advised to see instead. But Bloom achieves an uncharacteristic smolder. Appearing in junk he doesn't have to carry must be freeing.

And Saldana remains the most fame-worthy unfamous actress in Hollywood. Her part is dumb, but she throws herself into it anyway. The cast also includes Stephen Dillane, Bobby Cannavale, and Joy Bryant, in yet another dead-end girlfriend role.

The movie's interracial romance is mercifully presented as no big deal. Shy is chased away from Andrea because he's riffraff, not because he's the white guy from ``Elizabethtown." ``Haven" also provides a rare look at black upper-middle-class kids. Granted, the two here feel their true social worth is in street life (a depressing, if realistic idea), but still.

The movie debuted two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has been sitting around until now, although it's no worse than any of the other mildly diverting crime yarns that get released every year. It never seems like the pieces of this sub-Shakespearean story are ever going to fall into place, but in the 11th hour, they do, which is modestly satisfying.

Despite Flowers's obvious ambition, however, ``Haven" rarely feels more than third-rate. It's ``Degrassi High" with a dash of ``Miami Vice."

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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