Movie Review: “How to Be a Latin Lover” shows how much Hollywood wants a piece of Derbez

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The surprise success of the middling but good-hearted and “immigrant” topical parenting comedy “Instructions Not Included” was enough to convince Hollywood that it should be in the Eugenio Derbez business, and quickly, before the 50something Mexican funnyman aged out of his audience.

So up pops another sleeper hit, “How to Be a Latin Lover,” a comedy tailor made for his timing, his physical comedy skills, if not his Spanish slanguage gifts. It’s promising in premise, but limply plotted, offering Derbez too few chances to cut loose even as he makes the most of a game and goofy Hollywood-supplied supporting cast.

Derbez, cast as Maximo, whose boyhood dream was to be a “kept” man, is amusingly ridiculous as a louche lover of the Latin variety — a gold-digger lucky enough to have found his sugar momma when he was in his 20s.

All Maximo was ever good at was modeling banana hammocks, delivering smoldering stares and unsubtle come-ons.

“Oh,” he purrs, exiting the pool. “Did I make you wet?” 

Twenty-five years later, he’s let himself go — just a little. And holding a mirror under the nose of Peggy (Renee Taylor, who was in the original version of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”) hasn’t produced the desired death and inheritance. Spending her money on McClarens and Rolexes hasn’t lost its appeal.

 

 

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Until she takes up with an even younger car salesman (Michael Cera, a hoot). Maximo is out on his banana-hammocked butt. Not even his fellow gold-digger (Rob Lowe, almost TOO perfectly cast) can help him out. Rich (Lowe) has his own problems, keeping the oversexed/over-financed/not-over-the-hill Millicent (Linda Lavin) happy.

So Maximo’s off to stay with his estranged, widowed sister, played with her usual verve by Salma Hayek. She’s raising a little boy (Raphael Alejandro) who is just getting interested in girls. And as one of those girls is the granddaughter of a most eligible rich widow (Raquel Welch), Maximo is ready to help the boy out.

The comedy comes from the inappropriate lessons the aged Lothario passes on to the lad — sexist, too mature for his tender (ten) years. How’s the kid in the sack?

“I’m GREAT in bed. I don’t pee, or anything…any more.”

And there are laughs in Maximo’s efforts to finance his pursuit of the Widow Welch.

Stand-out moments — Derbez, as Maximo, teaching the kid to “take charge” with his simmering eye contact, to walk with a sexual strut and confidence. Maximo’s attempts to raise cash put him in a mismatch with a master street-corner sign spinner, run him afoul of some car-wrapping sales hustlers (Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel) and the widow’s protective chauffeur (Rob Corddry).

Best of all the many “Robs” Derbez surrounded himself with is Lowe, who throws himself into the kept-man routine, selling every sell-out line as if it’s his own. Rich exercises and um, bleaches, to please his lady-keeper. “Gotta keep it white and tight.”

Kristen Bell earns grins as a frozen yogurt clerk covered in a different set of band-aids every day. Because she’s a cat hoarder. And “even if they hurt you,” you love them. There’s a lesson for pet ownership, family and lovers. Or so the movie says.

Actor turned director Ken Marino leaves a lot of cuttable moments in, and generally lets things drag, from the childhood prologue to the too-pat finale. He pays too much attention to the supporting roles.

Derbez, saddled with a script mostly in English, has too few moments of his own to score. Watch him light up when he gets into Spanish tiffs with Hayek, who sings and dances in her small role, and you see what’s missing. He’s funnier in his native tongue, restrained and constrained in English.

That’s the risk taken by “How to be a Latin Lover,” a justifiable but misguided gamble to make Derbez an English language cross-over star. If you’ve ever seen any of his comedies from South of the Border, you know he’s funnier than this. So does the entire audience showing up for “Latin Lover.” Most of that audience speaks Spanish, and must be disappointed to see this close-but-no-cigar effort in its least amusing form — without subtitles for the Gringos.

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MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures, and for brief nudity
Cast” Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Raquel Welch, Linda Lavin, Rob Corddry, Micheal Cera
Credits: Directed by Ken Marino, written by Chris Spain, Jon Zack. A Pantelion release.
Running time: 1:55

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