All the years of fitfully studying Spanish, all the Spanish language films I’ve reviewed, and today I learn a new word.
“Ñoño.” It’s Spanish (Mexican slang) for “lame.”
I didn’t hear it in the new Netflix comedy “All the Freckles in the World (Todas las pecas del mundo).” I had to look it up to describe it.
In this ñoño, lazy, sexist, retrograde, stumbling Mexico City teen romance — yeah that’s a mouthful — a freshman pursues the upperclasswoman with the blonde hair, making his plans with her before they’ve ever met, before he’s ever heard her voice.
Jose Miguel is a movie cliché, and he doesn’t even know it.
He pursues the “chica rubia” (Loreto Peralta) of his desire even though the first girl he meets at his new school, Liliana (Andrea Sutton Chávez) is more interesting, more punk and more into him.
The script goes to great lengths to pass this kid, Jose Miguel Mota Palermo (Hanssel Casillas) off as an inventor. But it never finds anything clever to for him to invent.
The limp “first love/new school” stuff tumbles into a too-familiar “BIG GAME” comedy as Jose Miguel and his band of nerds and losers square off against Cristina’s actual boyfriend, the older, more soccer skilled and better looking Italian boy Kenji (Luis de La Rosa).
And Jose Miguel’s pal and his team’s star player? He’s an oft-flunked classmate, Malo (Alejandro Flores), a dullard who only shines on the pitch — and in after-school “tutoring” with teacher Miss Yolanda (Montserrat Marañon).
It’s 1994, and the World Cup has come to Mexico. Jose Miguel is into it — only not that much. His baby sister is the one who keeps calling the 900 number of Mexico’s star player, just to hear his voice.
Jose Miguel befriends Liliana and Malo straight off, and proceeds to bore them with his single-minded pursuit of the unattainable Cristina.
“Nothing worse than an idiot with initiative,” Liliana cracks — the film’s only funny line (in Spanish with English subtitles, if you like).
Liliana gives Jose Miguel a mix-tape as a come-on. Jose Miguel passes it off as his own to Cristina. Kenji is nice enough to the kid at first, until he figures out his game.
That’s how the soccer bet comes to be, and that’s the direction the story limps toward.
Promising ideas are introduced and abandoned. Jose Miguel’s home life, with pilot Dad moving them all over the country, is strained but unexplored.
The World Cup backdrop is mentioned but not embraced.
Liliana’s nose-pierced punk sensibility would have a lot more edgy cred if her mix tape wasn’t Fine Young Cannibals, not remotely edgy in ’94.
The inventions don’t work, and nothing is done to make them work as Jose lets his pursuit of Cristina take over his life and the movie.
“Freckles” are easily observable, but no fascination with them is mentioned. Jose Miguel is smitten with girls who have them, but never broaches this.
By the way, suggesting a sexual relationship with a student is a pretty serious taboo north of the border these days. It might have been funny in ’94, not in a 2019-20 movie SET in ’94.
That’s not the biggest problem with Yibrán Assuad’s slow-footed tale. The cast is dull, the direction pedestrian and the dialogue lifeless. The conflicts are believable, but routine and played out.
The fact that he’s borrowed and botched ideas from decades of big screen teen romances, from John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” onward doesn’t matter, because his young audience won’t be familiar with those films.
But that does park “All the Freckles in the World” in the middle of its biggest criticism, though. It’s seriously uninspired, lifeless and lame, “noño.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, PG mostly (with a hint of PG-13)Cast: Hanssel Casillas, Andrea Sutton Chávez, Loreto Peralta, Luis de La Rosa, Alejandro Flores and Montserrat Marañon
Credits: Directed by Yibrán Assuad, script by Yibrán Assuad, Javier Peñalosa and Gibrán Portela. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:28