"Cronicas" is an ambitious social-commentary melodrama that works about half the time -- until it engages in the very behavior it sets out to condemn. Structured as a thriller, the film stars John Leguizamo as a Miami-based tabloid TV reporter who, in the course of reporting on a string of child murders in Ecuador, begins to influence the story in ways he never could have anticipated.

Events in "Cronicas" swirl into an increasingly hysterical media circus, and it becomes clear that filmmaker Sebastian Cordero is less interested in the suspense of the story than in making points about the corrupting power of fame, the dangerous intersection of entertainment and news, and the shifting line between journalistic freedom and arrogance. On these issues, "Cronicas" offers no insights that haven't been treated with more intelligence and style in earlier movies. ("Network" and "Ace in the Hole" leap to mind.)

But "Cronicas" gets some things right. Leguizamo's Bonilla, who seamlessly changes from Spanish to English in the same sentence, is instantly recognizable as a comfortably hyphenated global citizen. What's more, "Cronicas," which was filmed in Babahoyo and Guayaquil, Ecuador, provides a vivid glimpse of the busy urban life and serene marshlands of that country, in all their poverty and beauty. Although it's often difficult to discern amid a schematic plot and overheated, sanctimonious denouement, an undeniable reality underlies "Cronicas," the reality of how cultures talk to and absorb one another, for better and for worse.

-- Ann Hornaday