Movie Review: “Instructions not Included”

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Overlong and comically broad, the Mexican-made “Instructions not Included”, a surprise late-summer box office hit, is still not without its charms. A Spanish-language (with subtitles) comic weeper about single parenting and the immigrant experience, it makes a fine showcase for Mexican co-writer/director/star Eugenio Derbez, who finally has his better-late-than-never introduction to American audience.
Derbez, who appeared in such English language dramedies as “Girl in Progress,” may be entirely too old (he’s over 50) to pull off the young Acapulco “player” whose dalliance with an American woman (Jessica Lindsey) leads to her dumping their baby girl on his bachelor pad doorstep. But he’s engaging enough, he clicks with the little girl and he’s quite adept at the slapstick that the movie uses to show that with kids, instructions really should be included.
Valentin womanizes his way through Acapulco, fighting off his fears — which his father, in flashbacks, told him were his “wolves” — such fears as commitment and growing up.
He has to face those fears when Julie (Lindsey) dumps a baby in his lap. He has only Julie’s old Los Angeles address and a single photo of her teaching an aerobics class to go on. And he has no clue how to cope with a baby.
The funniest scenes in the film involve his clumsiness — stuffing the baby in his shirt as he races his scooter to the airport, refusing to dive into diaper changing, relying on his goofy friends for advice.
“You’ll have to learn English, otherwise, when she starts talking, you won’t understand her.”
A cross-country trek, hitchhiking, gets him to the border and a friendly coyote smuggles him into the U.S. But getting to L.A. is not enough. Julie has disappeared, and not having a Green Card, the only work Valentin can stumble into is reckless movie stunt work.
A lovely montage covers the seven years that quickly pass. Valentin leans on little Maggie (Loreto Peralta) to translate for him on the set, to negotiate his deals, even. He cannot learn English after seven years in the U.S., but somehow, she has managed it.
And he tells her wonderful fairytales in the form of letters from her mother, letters he writes and which she illustrates, in her mind, in delightful 3-D animated interludes, felt cut-outs of trips to Africa, Australia or the moon.
“Instructions” lazily leans on the funny business that Valentin copes with on movie sets too much, with over-familiar character types peopling that part of the picture. The father/daughter home life stuff, living in a toy-filled loft, is more engaging.
And then the mom returns and the whole affair switches to a sort of Mexican vs. American “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
The kid’s adorable, and the flashbacks to the tough love Valentin received from his dad work comic wonders — hurling the kid off an Acapulco cliff, teaching him to be brave and not really succeeding.
Derbez manages some marvelous bits of business — using the baby’s bottom to squash a spider, another of Valentin’s phobias.
And the ending of the movie is a real grabber, the sort of thing that lifts and improves a tediously long and otherwise mediocre film and tricks you into thinking it was better than it really was as you leave the theater.
Sentimental in the extreme, “Instructions” doesn’t reinvent a very tired genre and the things Derbez skips past — the language barrier contrivance, the obviously high-mileage actor pretending to be a young swinger — hamper the film, too. At its best, it has a touch of Tyler Perry about it. At its worst, it reminded me of the many Bollywood “comedies” built around wild implausibilities, starring actors 25 years too old for their characters.
But it’s clever and inventive enough to suggest that Derbez could have a future north of the border, too.

(“Instructions” becomes the highest grossing Spanish language film in US history).
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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, thematic elements and language
Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Karla Souza, Loreto Peralta, Daniel Raymont
Credits: Directed by Eugenio Derbez, written by Guillermo Ríos, Leticia López Margalli and Eugenio Derbez. A Pantelion release.
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Running time: 2:00

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30 Responses to Movie Review: “Instructions not Included”

  1. K Hofheinz says:

    You’re much too generous. There were brief moments in this film that worked comedically, and the little actress is someone we can hope to see a lot more of. But I can’t recall any movie more contrived nor inane, in any language. Why they found it necessary to make the lead character, after 7 years of living in Los Angeles, totally incapable of uttering even the most elementary English while nearly every gringo he meets is inexplicably fluent in Spanish. It was neither essential to drive the plot, qualify the improbable, nor did it provide any laughs. Comparing it to Tyler Perry’s fatuous output is quite apt.

    • Very Bollywood, I thought. The star sets the bar low, because that’s how he views his audience. Only in India, and now apparently MExico, can a 50something actor who shows his mileage get away with playing 30ish to 37ish with nobody wondering WTHey?

    • ellis says:

      Omg really the point was to make us laugh. Buddy you putting to much thought into it. I went with mu kids all BOYS ages 13, 12 & 3.. they loved it.
      They later told me they understand why am so protective of them. Every minute count.

    • Eliza miller says:

      I disagree, I think the movie was great, the actors were great and it had both comedy and emotional parts. And this movie was nothing like a Bollywood movie.

    • Ana says:

      Clearly you do not speak Spanish. Otherwise you would have appreciated much more the comedy that a fluent Spanish speaking person like myself picked up on instantly. It takes much more than the average and basic understanding of the Latino culture to enjoy and appreciate the ingenuity of this film. Something that clearly many of you do not have.

      • Actually, I do speak Spanish, well enough to note the watered down translation. But maybe you want to consider that since all the reviews are mediocre, at best, perhaps it is your tastes that are lacking. Hmmm? Just a thought.

  2. menaelisandro says:

    I loved the movie….Have you guys seen any American movies? MOST actors are over 45 and play characters as teenagers or early 20’s…. Come on!, give Eugenio a break!! It is a good movie, it does make you think

  3. EL Chamo says:

    A MUST SEE MOVIE. Is a great movie. You have to be “one-track-mind” to score a negative star on this. If you are not able to read subtitles…well, go back to school ! Of course, this is not a “hollywood” full after effects, 3D loaded reel. Is funny. Is this can be a real life story? perhaps. You must understand the particular mexican humor. The story at every moment is captivating and show the struggle some immigrants have. Not to mention that the little girl is an excellent actress.

  4. James says:

    Moore wrote:

    “But it’s clever and inventive enough to suggest that Derbez could have a future north of the border, too.”

    The only part of your review that I liked was the last line…

    • I wouldn’t bet my 401K on his Hollywood future, binky.

      • James says:

        Another month of 38 million domestic sez you might want to reconsider that bet … He certainly will have more shelf life than some
        bad hack critic who should be taking tickets at the theater door…

      • Um, $33 and change if you’d bothered to look it up. Not bad. But as H.L. Menken said, “Nobody ever went broke UNDER estimating the tastes of the (Mexican) American public. He was talking about you, Summer’s Eve.

  5. Gadiel says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. This movie is great, “Instructions not included” has something that American movies do not have, and that is a very good story. Hollywood movies nowadays are focused on money and special effects. It is awesome to finally see a movie that has a more realistic and well thought out story. Thanks eugenio!

  6. cindy says:

    I only only focuses on watching movies about superheroes or zombies or something like that, yes indeed hollywood movies are focuses on money and special effects.. But c’mon that is not at odds with a good plot. I am mexican, and I think the movie was kind of funny but because includes all the funny things that had worked previously. Also I think that some stuff is really pushing the limits of a good truly comedy and some actors really overplay their parts. And the End is just to make a dark twist of the unexpected that is only to make your cry, and feel sorry. Nice try of a movie.

  7. I have a preety good idea why you didnt like this movie……..Americans hate to see themselves loosing.

  8. Pancho Villa says:

    Vamos que mala onda , is the same in Mexico ot Latin America english movies has to be with subtittles so please dont be negative is a great Movie can you imagine more than $27,000 a teather do you think is bad haha is great.

    • Sorry, but I don’t “grade on the curve” simply because a mediocre movie comes from a poor, backward country. Mexican cinema has set a higher bar. This is closer to the drivel pumped out for the masses who consume crappy Mexican TV.

  9. Alicia says:

    Rogerinorlando, if Mexican TV is crappy, why did you learn Spanish. What’s the point of speaking Spanish. You are so PATHETIC !! and you sound like you really are a very NEGATIVE and BITTER PERSON! Shame on you!

  10. Angelica says:

    As a young lady who works at the movie theater in box office I must say of all the recent releases no other movie has as consistent of a crowd as instructions not included. No, the movie was never sold out but week after week people continue to come and purchase tickets. So much in fact that tomorrow night on my day off I plan on going to see this movie because I’ve heard such good things about it. Mr Moore I do think you’ve got it wrong. I haven’t seen the movie but I’ve seen the critics and the way in which the people/fans defend the movie is something special. This movie at my theater (which is in a predominantly white neighborhood, if that matters) has had a more consistent crowd the. Rush, prisoners, and the like. The fact that it is in Spanish with subtitles yes certain jokes get lost in translation but I for one a non Spanish speaking american am excited to see this movie! Even though I’m late to the party. That’s the thing about good movies. They don’t all start out as box office hits but the quality gets people talking and more importantly gets people like me (who never would have seen a Spanish subtitle movie) to come and support. It doesn’t hurt that it’s breaking records and making history either. And Mr. Moore you’re “look the other critics said it too…” Defense is #LAMEE. If the other critics all jumped off a bridge would… I digress. I’m sure you can finish that thought. It’s great to see a movie cross cultures and do great in America. And I for one am going to support!

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