LOWER CITY — ** 1/2 — Alice Braga, Lazaro Ramos, Wagner Moura; in Portuguese, with English subtitles; rated R (profanity, sex, nudity, violence, vulgarity, drugs, brief gore, racial epithets).

"Lower City" may come from some of the same people responsible for "City of God" and "The Motorcycle Diaries," but it's definitely less ambitious than either one.

This well-acted erotic thriller is also less ambitious than the 2001 Mexican hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien," which it resembles in several story aspects.

The film's title refers to a city in Brazil that's the intended destination for Karinna ("City of God's" Alice Braga). And this exotic dancer is willing to do just about anything to get there.

She's lucky to meet Deco and Naldinho (Lazaro Ramos and Wagner Moura, who teamed up previously in "Carandiru"). The former sailors co-own a boat and are more than willing to take her where she wants to go.

Unfortunately, the lifelong friends are both drawn to Karinna and each quickly grows jealous of the attention she pays to the other.

Co-screenwriter/director Sergio Machado, a former assistant to "Central Station" filmmaker Walter Salles, doesn't seem to have a particular cinematic destination in mind for these characters, and the rather abrupt ending doesn't work.

Still, the performances nearly salvage the whole film. Braga, the niece of Brazilian star Sonia Braga, smolders and has a dominating presence — and considerable chemistry with both male leads.

The film's most appealing aspect, however, may be the scenery.

"Lower City" is rated R for strong sexual language, including profanity and slang terms, simulated sex and other sexual contact, full female and partial male nudity, some strong violence (fisticuffs, gunplay and animal cruelty), drug content (cocaine use and abuse of prescription medicine), brief gore and use of racial epithets. Running time: 98 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com