The one thing I can’t stand is to see a decent cast wasted on dopey material, but that is exactly the case with How to Be a Latin Lover, a flat and generally unfunny attempt to expand Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez’s international appeal. I loved his previous import, 2013’s heartwarming and hilarious hit Instructions Not Included, which, like his latest, was released through the Lionsgate latin subsidiary Pantelion Films. Unfortunately this highly talented comic actor has been let down by screenwriters Chris Spain and Jon Zack’s stereotypical, misogynist script that struggles for laughs at every turn but rarely gets them.
Largely an English-language effort, save for several subtitled scenes between Derbez’s Maximo and sister Sara (the always engaging Salma Hayek), Derbez plays an aging gigolo whose life dream is only to be kept by a rich older woman. He achieves that at a young age when he meets one (Renee Taylor, always amusing) and marries her. But after years of this convenient and cushy arrangement, he is tossed to the street when a much-younger car salesman (Michael Cera) moves in on his act. Cera needs a new agent. What is he doing in this movie?
Forced to room with his sister and his nephew Hugo (cute Raphael Alejandro) whom he barely knows, Maximo hatches a plot to seduce another even richer older woman (Raquel Welch) who it turns out is the grandmother of Hugo’s first crush at school (McKenna Grace). This plan comes to a boil disastrously at the girl’s big birthday party, thanks to some bad tips from Maximo’s friend and fellow gigolo played by Rob Lowe, who also might consider a new agent after playing this lowbrow character.
What passes for humor in the film tends to be broad and tasteless at times. A running gag has a wheelchair-bound old man repeatedly hit by cars. Another questionable disability gag follows the reveal that Welch’s character has no arms and wears prosthetic devices for both. When Lowe and Derbez argue over her, of course they end up accidentally yanking both of them off. Sue me, but this was the funniest bit in the whole film, thanks to Welch’s deadpan reactions after the fact.
The cast can’t be blamed at all for this mess. Derbez has a Chaplin- or Cantinflas-type quality as a kind of sad-sack actor but deserves so much better. So does Hayek, who manages to breathe a little dignity and realism into these proceedings. Rob Corrdry is very funny as Welch’s protective limo driver, but he is in and out as a guy who is on to Maximo’s gigolo act. Rob Riggle and Rob Heuvel do what they can with roles as a couple of losers who are owed money by Maximo. Kristen Bell has a one-joke part as a nice cat lady — her house is overrun with them — whose numerous scratches are covered up by colorful Band-Aids. The terrific Linda Lavin is Lowe’s cash cow.
It is great though to see 1960s siren Welch onscreen again looking like a million bucks and delivering her lines like a true pro. Ken Marino, an actor and sometimes writer-director helmed this without much of the sense of style he brought to the TV series Burning Love. He has a tendency here to allow everything to go over the top. Waaaaay over the top. I still haven’t let him out of movie jail for his hand in co-writing the 2007 atrocity The Ten, which might be one of the two or three worst screen comedies I have ever seen.
But I digress. Ben Ordell and Derbez produced. Lionsgate opens the film today but did not have press screenings (smart move), so I caught it at a public Thursday night preview with real people who actually laughed. What can I say?
Do you plan to see How to Be a Latin Lover? Let us know what you think.
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