By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
So you decide to go to the movies for a night out. You’ve already seen The Fate of the Furious and pretty much every other option looks like as good an idea as that Frye festival.
Oh wait, what’s that? A new comedy called How to Be a Latin Lover?
Hold on, is this some Sandler bullshit?
Okay good, let’s give it a shot.
Maximo decided at a very young age what he wanted to be when he grew up. After he and his little sister Sara tragically lose both their father and home (at the same time, no less), they daydream about making better lives for themselves. Sara wants to pursue a career as an architect. Maximo pulls out a magazine ad featuring a wealthy businessman with a beautiful, much younger woman standing by his side. “This is what I want to be,” he says. Sara asks what job he will get to become as wealthy as the man in the photo. “No,” Maximo replies, “I don’t want to be him, I want to be her,” pointing to the woman.
Be careful what you wish for Maximo.
Ten years later a twenty-one-year-old Maximo accomplishes just that, by seducing and marrying a fifty-something multi-millionaire named Peggy (Renee Taylor).
Fast forward 25 more years and Maximo (Eugenio Derbez, Instructions Not Included) is living the good life: lounging around his mansion, collecting expensive sports cars, and never having to lift a finger, not even to swipe pages on his iPad – he has a guy for that. He doesn’t even need to walk, instead opting to get around on one of his hundreds of hoverboards (it goes without saying that these are definitely not those cheap, exploding hoverboards). He spends his days of waiting for Peggy’s eventual expiration hanging out at country clubs with his one friend, fellow middle-aged trophy husband Rick (Rob Lowe, in a role that had to have been written with him in mind).
Maximo’s charmed life comes to a screeching halt on his wedding anniversary when Peggy trades him in for a younger model (Michael Cera, in a role that could not have possibly been written with him in mind, but somehow works because it’s hilarious). Maximo, who never bothered to learn that prenup is short for prenuptial agreement, is left with nothing but a suitcase and one of his hoverboards. And then that gets stolen.
With no money, no hoverboard, and nowhere to go, Maximo shows up on Sara’s (Salma Hayek) doorstep. The siblings have been long estranged due to Maximo ditching his old life and everyone in it. Still, the good-hearted Sara takes him in and allows him stay with her and her young son Hugo (Rapheal Alejandro) while he gets back on his feet.
Getting back on his feet, of course, means finding a new older, rich woman to seduce. Maximo soon finds his mark – the grandmother of Hugo’s classmate/crush. Maximo comes up with a master plan to teach the socially awkward Hugo the art of seduction to help him get the courage to speak to his dream girl Arden (Mckenna Grace), which will help him in accomplishing his true goal of getting an in with the wealthy Celeste (Raquel Welch).
This is Ken Marino’s feature-length directorial debut (he’s previously directed various television episodes as well the hilarious webseries Burning Love). Anyone familiar with Marino’s brand of humor from his many acting roles and collaborations (The State, Wet Hot American Summer, Children’s Hospital) will have an idea of what to expect. He transitions his comedic sensibilities and spot-on timing to his new role behind the camera with confidence, knowing just how long to hold on a sight-gag for maximum effect (there’s a great bit early on involving Peggy needing “just a second” to get ready), as well as how far to turn up the dial on the absurd. The humor is actually funny, often because it takes unexpected turns or comes out of nowhere.
Most of the time it works and feels refreshing, a nice change from the vulgar, R-rated, often mean-spirited, gross-out model that has become the standard in the comedy genre. And the impressive thing is that this is a film that includes a brutal death played for laughs, a person in a wheelchair repeatedly getting struck by cars, a 10-year old learning how to be “sexy,” and several punches to groins – all of these things sound exactly like this would be one of those movies. But it isn’t. It’s balanced with just enough heart which makes it more (but never gets too sappy).
The cast plays just as big a part in accomplishing this. Eugenio Derbez, a huge star worldwide though a relative unknown to American mainstream audiences, is great, never afraid to go for the laughs, no matter how silly he looks. His character of a jerk you still can’t help but root for is a hard one to pull off, but he does, easily. I admit, I was previously not familiar with him, but after seeing this film, I am now fully on board for the Overboard remake he is set to star in alongside Anna Faris next year. (Oh I punned there, didn’t I?) And the original is one of my all-time-know-it-by-heart favorite comedies, so that’s saying something.
Salma Hayek grounds the film with a sweet performance, but she gets some laughs too, especially in her scenes with Derbez. They often bicker in Spanish, which is another toast-deserving element, as much of their dialogue flows from English to Spanish (don’t worry, there are subtitles) and back again. It feels very natural and realistic, as opposed to everyone speaking English.
This is probably not the movie for anyone who feels this way for several reasons, but mostly because they probably can’t read very well, if at all.
Hayek’s chemistry with Derbez is rivaled only by Raphael Alejandro’s. The young actor holds his own in his many scenes and is a fully-formed character, not just “the cute kid.” (though he is definitely adorable, and not in an annoying way.) The supporting cast is just as game, and keep your eyes open as there are many fun cameos scattered throughout the film.
Not all the jokes hit, and with a runtime of nearly two hours, some could have been cut, most notably a recurring subplot of two bumbleheads (Rob Huebel and Rob Riggle) trying to collect a $1,000 debt from Maximo. The joke gets less funny every time it’s revisited and feels shoehorned in simply to feature the two Robs who do not have the last name Lowe.
And as much as Kristen Bell is always a welcome addition to any movie, her kooky cat lady role could have been trimmed down to a cameo. But it was a pretty inspired choice for her character to work in a frozen yogurt shop.
There it is. (Don’t feel bad, I didn’t make the connection until hours after the movie.)
I’m not sure how I felt about the ending. On one hand, I appreciated that Maximo doesn’t do the full predictable 180 after he learns his big lesson, but how he wins back his family, particularly Sara, didn’t sit so well with me. It’s hard to explain without giving it away, but it was enough for me to make a mental note to assign it a beer.
How to Be a Latin Lover is a surprisingly charming and often quite funny showcase for both its star Eugenio Derbez and director Ken Marino. I’m looking forward to seeing more in the future from both. A worthy current matinee or future Netflix choice.
How to Be a Latin Lover (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Sara smacks Maximo upside the head
Take a Drink: every time someone does the “sexy walk”
Take a Drink: for every sexual innuendo
Take a Drink: whenever Rob Lowe’s character wears a costume
Take a Drink: for every actor in this movie with the first name Rob (Hint: there are four)
Take a Drink: for every new band-aid Kristen Bell’s character sports
Do a Shot: whenever Maximo attempts his pool seduction
Reward yourself with a Shot: if you catch the American Gigolo shout-out (Fun Fact: John Bailey, the cinematographer of this film, was also the cinematographer of American Gigolo)
Last Call: There are bloopers and more sexy-walking during the credits. Not much of it is very funny, though (which is odd because most of the jokes in the movie are– it kind of looks like everything was filmed with the intention of being in a blooper reel.)