For the second week in a row, I’m surprised by which movie I’m reviewing. The social media thriller “The Circle” was supposed to be the big winner among new releases at the weekend box office. That film boasted big stars in Emma Watson and Tom Hanks and a release on over 3,000 screens. But not only did the film lose the weekend to “How to Be a Latin Lover” on just over 1,000 screens, it lost to the Indian epic “Baahubali 2” on less than 500. It was an ugly race, and all three new releases lost to the third weekend of “The Fate of the Furious,” but in the end it was “How to Be a Latin Lover” that was estimated to have lost the least.
The film stars Eugenio Derbez as Maximo, a man who could be considered a professional Latin Lover if he weren’t so determined to not be considered a “professional” anything. His father worked himself to death and his goal in life is to never have to work at all. Maximo enjoys the spoils of being the husband of a rich old bag until she decides she wants somebody younger. He’s expelled from his life of luxury and is forced to move in with his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and her son Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Sara doesn’t share Maximo’s anti-work ethic and strives to prevent him from being a bad influence on Hugo. Hugo strives to get the attention of a classmate (Mckenna Grace). And Maximo strives to find another rich old bat to take care of him.
The three goals intersect when Maximo notices that Hugo’s crush has a rich grandmother (Raquel Welch) who would make the perfect conquest. He decides that the best way to get her attention would be for Hugo to get the attention of her granddaughter. And with that, he teaches Hugo all of his tricks for seducing women, all of which are sexist and most of which depend on the women being lustful. Along the way, there’s the requisite storyline about Maximo initially just using his sister and nephew for his own sleazy gain, but over time coming to love them.
The humor in the movie is uneven. Maximo goes through a number of embarrassing episodes intended to make you laugh at him getting comeuppance for being such a jerk. Most of these gags fall flat, but oddly the movie is much funnier when bad things happen to much less deserving targets. I should be mad at the movie for being so mean-spirited at times, but it knows how to draw laughs from the most horrific events. There’s not much that’s funny or memorable about the scripted dialogue (rambling from a pair of villains played by Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel is especially painful), but there’s a lot to like about the way the three main characters play off each other in simpler moments. The strength of the movie is in the flat-out charm of Hayek, Alejandro, Kristen Bell (as a fro-yo server with a houseful of cats), and Derbez as the hero who starts off as a louse but will win you over by the film’s end.
“How to Be a Latin Lover” is the kind of breakout hit that can send its star soaring through the power rankings in Hollywood. Eugenio Derbez was already somewhat on that level thanks to the success in 2013’s “Instructions Not Included,” but this movie is officially in English and even more accessible. He is going to get many more projects based on this movie. On one hand, it’s always refreshing to see a new star on the rise. On the other, I’m not too eager to see a string of films as mediocre (or worse) as this one. “How to Be a Latin Lover” at least shows me that there’s potential in Derbez as a leading man and I hope he knocks it out of the park with his next project.
Reach Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.