There’s something vaguely enervating about the Spanish romance “Love at First Kiss.”
It never was a romantic comedy, despite having a situation or two and a character or two ripe for it. And the film rarely crosses the line into “sweetly sad.”
But it’s a dispiriting 96 minutes in any event, and perhaps its the plot and the “hero” that make it so.
Álvaro Cervantes stars as Javier, our hunky narrator who tells his tale with a whiff of resignation in his voice-over.
Ever since he was a teen, Javier’s been able to “see” an entire relationship,” its early heat and romantic peaks and promise and eventual dissolution, just in that “first kiss.”
His superpower does him no good. Because whatever the women he “dumps” think of him, he’s playing for keeps and just now getting a grasp of the patterns that flash before his eyes in that “besame mucho moment. We meet him just as he’s about to have another drink dumped on him at his favorite pub.
No woman wants some jerk to tell her “We have no future,” no matter how certain he is that he’s irrefutably right, because he’s seen it.
Lucia (Silvia Alonso), the live-in girlfriend of his pal Roberto (Gorka Otxoa), has had a few chances to size Javier up, and gets downright mean about Mr. “Commitment-phobic.” Still, she’s got this broken-hearted friend she tries to set him up with, just as her “transition f—,” a guy you meet and exploit for uncomplicated sex, just to get over the last boyfriend.
Javier can see where the fix-up will end up, getting vomited on by a night of clubbing. So he does his best to dodge that bullet. That’s how he ends up kissing his “best friend’s girl,” who “hates” him.
And what he sees when he and Luca lock lips is straight out of a classic Levi’s commercial. This is the happy ending he’s been looking for.
The movie then becomes a coy game of avoiding the inevitable, then trying to not hurt Roberto, then surrendering. But is the inevitable as romantic as it sounds?
The screenplay spends as little time as possible on the supernaturalism of it all. Javier doesn’t openly advertise this “gift.” Will he tell Lucia?
And this challenging manic pixie barmaid (Susana Abaitua) could further muddy the waters between Miss Right and Mr. Indecisive.
The formulaic story has promise and the leads are uniformly gorgeous and good actors. But the picture’s sidebars –problems with Javier’s struggling small-press-run publishing imprint, the famous writers he tries to sign, market researcher Lucia talking him into focus group-testing his books — distract from the central story, and to no real purpose.
It’s also hard getting past what is pretty obvious about how callous Javier is no matter how gently he thinks he’s breaking this news to another woman. He’s a sensitive jerk.
There’s little humor in this, either in cuckolded Roberto finally confronting Javier at a public event or the many ways the chatting, drink-pouring Ariana gets in his head, and ours.
Somehow we know that “Love at First Kiss,” given the even more generic title “Eres tú” en España, will never inspire more than a “Que sera sera ,” no matter how this all turns out.
Rating: TV-MA, adult situations, some profanity
Cast: Álvaro Cervantes, Silvia Alonso, Susana Abaitua
Credits: Directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azúa, scripted by Adolfo Valor and Cristóbal Garrido. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:36