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Starring Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Raphael Alejandro, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell, Raquel Welch, Rob Riggle, Rob Huebel, Renee Taylor, Linda Lavin, Mckenna Grace. Directed by Ken Marino. (2017, 155 min). LIONSGATE

If nothing else, this film's pre-title prologue made me laugh loud enough to startle my cat.

In a year rife with raunchy, unfunny comedies that have mostly bombed at the box office, the rest of How to be a Latin Lover is a breath of fresh air. Even with a PG-13 rating, I was expecting something filled with self-humiliating characters, bedroom humor and snickering innuendo. While the film does indeed have some of that, it's often genuinely funny without ever becoming mean-spirited or descending into pure sleaze. And - surprise, surprise - it even manages to be sentimental and sweet at times.

Eugenio Derbez is Maximo, a man with no work ethic who marries an older rich woman for her money. 25 years later, she dumps him for a younger man, leaving him homeless and broke. He moves in with his sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), a budding architect, and her nerdy, awkward son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Predictably, his self-absorption, laziness and inappropriate behavior around Hugo makes him a bane to Sara. Hugo, who's own father died a few years before, is quite taken with his uncle, who initially wants nothing to do with the boy.

"Hey, Mister...you has Friskies?"
"Hey, Mister...you has Friskies?"

Meanwhile, rather than look for a legitimate job, Maximo sets out to snag another wealthy older woman to take care of him, which he think he finds in Celeste (Rachel Welch, still looking mighty fine for 76). Coincidently, she's the grandmother of the girl Hugo has a secret crush on. Maximo decides to give his nephew lessons in winning-over the ladies (the only sleazy way he knows how) in order to get closer to Celeste. Unfortunately, Maximo is no longer the virile young stud he used to be and generally ends up making things worse for everybody, including himself, not helped by the so-called advice of friend and fellow man-toy Rick (Rob Lowe).

The premise alone naturally lends itself to ample opportunities for cartoonish antics and low-brow comedy, which the film more-than-willingly provides. It isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but much of it is chuckleworthy and resists the overwhelming temptation to degenerate into a leering sex farce. In fact, except for some suggestive dialogue here and there, you might even feel comfortable watching this with your older kids, who'd probably enjoy the scenes involving Hugo and Maximo. Speaking of which, these two provide the emotional crux of a film I never expected to have one. Despite their age difference, they treat and talk to each other as equals since Hugo is wise beyond his years and Maximo never really grew up in the first place.

"What do you mean you don't like tea parties?"
"What do you mean you don't like tea parties?"

From a narrative standpoint, there aren't too many surprises, but the characters are fun due to lively performances by an impressive cast. Despite his shallow, obnoxious character, Derbez renders Maximo likable, while Alejandro is charming as the socially-awkward Hugo. The rest of the cast are all given their moments to shine, as well. Lowe plays yet-another oily sleaze as only he can, while Linda Lavin is unnervingly hilarious as his sugar mama. Kristen Bell's cat-lady character is arguably the least essential to the story, though the increasingly brutal scratch wounds on her face & body is the best running gag in the movie. Even Welch, never exactly renowned for her comedic skills, has a few amusing moments.

How to Be a Latin Lover isn't gonna change the world and perhaps runs a tad longer than it needs to, but it never quite wears out its welcome. It's an engaging, affably entertaining film that manages to juggle slapstick & situational comedy pretty well, while remaining surprisingly sweet-natured.

EXTRA KIBBLES

  • FEATURETTES: "Show Me Your Sexy!" (making-of); "A Little Help from My Friends" (mostly about director Ken Marino assembling the cast)
  • AUDIO COMMENTARY - by director Marino, producer Ben Odell & editor John Daigle
  • DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES
  • DVD & DIGITAL COPIES

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