By Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
Okay, so it will never be mistaken for vintage Pedro Almodovar or Bigas Luna, but the feel-good satire How to Be a Latin Lover nevertheless gives you less cause to be a hater than you might have expected.
A tailor-made vehicle for Mexican comedy star Eugenio Derbez, the film — about an aging gigolo who’s abruptly tossed out on his saggy behind after being a kept man for 25 years — admittedly has commitment issues in its desire to be both an outrageous comedy and a tender family romp. But first-time feature director Ken Marino and his game cast, also including a terrific Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Linda Lavin, and Raquel Welch, succeed in goosing the funny bone more than they miss, which could position this release from Lionsgate’s Hispanic division as a bona fide player with its targeted demographic.
Having made good on a childhood pledge to never work as hard as his late father, Maximo (Derbez) has been contentedly living life as the pampered plaything of his much older wealthy wife, Peggy (Renee Taylor), ever since he was a 22-year-old stud (played by Derbez’ own son, Vadhir). But his free ride abruptly comes to an end when Peggy makes an 80th birthday present out of a baby-faced car dealer (Michael Cera), forcing Maximo, who had signed a pre-nup, out into the real world for the first time in his life.
He turns up on the L.A. doorstep of his estranged sister, Sara (Hayek), a widow with a nerdy, 10-year-old son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro), but quickly finds himself trying to squeeze his neglected body back into Latin-American Gigolo mode when he eyes the filthy rich grandmother (Welch) of one of Hugo’s schoolmates.
Marino, a well-known actor who cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Burning Love and Childrens Hospital, is equally at home directing the broader physical comedy and sweeter bonding sequences between Maximo and Hugo, even as the overlong film’s two distinct personalities never manage to coalesce into a self-contained whole.
There are still a number of inspired moments on display in Chris Spain and Jon Zack’s screenplay, which have been enthusiastically embraced by the cast of good sports. While Derbez, whose 2013 family comedy Instructions Not Included holds the record as the highest-grossing Spanish-language release in U.S. history, gives a remarkably vanity-free performance as the ridiculously vain Maximo, he and the always-welcome Hayek display a convincing sibling dynamic that really helps keep things rooted.
Also contributing to the goofiness factor are Lowe as Maximo’s longtime buddy, who has enjoyed a similar set-up with lusty sugar mama Lavin, and Kristen Bell as a spirited frozen yogurt store employee and dedicated cat lady with the scratches to prove it. And then there’s ever-game Welch, who, at age 76 delivers a performance which can only be described as outrageously disarming. Like everything else about How to Be a Latin Lover, it might not ultimately hit the desired tone, but it can occasionally still be fun trying to get there.
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