FILM REVIEW: Mexican Comedian Derbez Gives Us More Good Laughs in HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER
In the light-hearted comedy How To Be a Latin Lover, renowned Mexican comedian (and producer) Eugenio Derbez is back with a dose of his signature slapstick humor mixed in with easy but genuine sentimentality. The movie may not reach the height of some of his most recent successes, notably Instructions Not Included, but it nonetheless provides enough laughter to justify its existence.
Portraying the suave but aging Latin lover Maximo, a gold digger who finds himself on the outs of his lifelong conquest at a time when washboard abs have given way to bulging bellies and chiseled features have been erased by graying whiskers, Derbez has to use his mettle to get himself out of trouble. He ends up invading the life of his estranged sister, played by Salma Hayek, and his adorable nephew Hugo, to their initial chagrin and later fondness. His buddy in fortune-hunting crime, an amusing Rob Lowe, tries to help him as he finds a new “mark,” while a crazy cat lady played by a hilarious Kristen Bell rounds out the main cast. Michael Cera and Weird Al Yankovic also have quick cameos, an impressive all around cast indeed.
Derbez’s work is characterized for its broad appeal and lithe intellectual ambitions. It is paint by numbers storytelling, where the central figure’s obvious wiliness will land him in trouble with those he loves, only to have it resolved by some act of heroism or selflessness. There is not much to expect in terms of plot twists or surprises, it is in the unexpected nature of the gags that the fun here lies.
Enter Raquel Welsh, who plays Maximo’s latest target and provides the movie with an unexpected dash of hysteria in a pivotal central scene at her granddaughter’s birthday party. That and other crass but working moments anchor the film’s most genuine laughs, along with a couple of entertaining scenes by the delightful Bell and Hayek, both of whom hold her own next to the towering comedic presence of Derbez.
The story, indeed, is not new to American cinema. Sigourney Weaver played a similar character in the little-known 2001 flick Heartbreakers, though the absence of Jennifer Love-Hewitt makes this an infinitely better product. What makes How To Be A Latin Lover different is not only Derbez’s signature physical and semi-dirty humor, it’s his willingness to explore the contours of different cultures and their interactions for comedic effect. Here, of course, the use of Spanish throughout the film and the interlacing of Mexican culture make the movie refreshing where it may have otherwise been staid.
Here, the road Maximo travels back to richly relevance requires him to try to train his nephew Hugo in the art of charming a lady with stereotypical and exaggerated Latin traits. The young actor who plays Hugo gives it all his best and provides some of the most touching and funny moments of the film, even though the story does not center solely around the promised title. Still, it is refreshing that, for example, Hayek’s character is given as much screen time as the gigolo that occupies the heart of the film, and that Derbez shows interest not just in his abilities but actually trusts those of the actors who surround him.
How To Be a Latin Lover is both a thoroughly familiar and also a refreshingly novel film. Familiar in that the concept it portrays is nothing short of overdone, novel in that it has never been done quite from the comedic perspective of this somewhat esoteric star. A film for all in the end, it is a worthy addition to his growing library of Hispanic comedy, and a worthwhile way to have a good laugh with the family.