'How to Be a Latin Lover' Gets Less Good the More Sober You Get
I would like to start this review by saying that as an eminently respectable Professional Woman and Serious Journalist, I would never endeavor to see a movie I’ve been assigned to review while drunk. That would be irresponsible and wrong. Sometimes your friend has a flask and, well, you’re at Collateral Beauty. Sometimes you’re seeing a canine snuff film and you wish you were so drunk as to be unable to feel pain. But I did not intend to be slightly (slightly) inebriated when I saw How to Be a Latin Lover, about a middle-aged gold digger named Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) who’s determined to find a new rich old lady to bone after his wife/sugar mama of 25 years leaves him for a younger model. There hadn’t been any press screenings, it was Sunday night, I’d just gotten back from hanging out with friends. Peach vodka happens. And rum. And more peach vodka. I don’t need to justify myself to any of you.
I… kind of… liked this movie.
Did you know this movie is the feature directorial debut of Ken Marino? Because I didn’t until his name came up in the opening credits. And then the movie begins with a flashback where the main character’s father, a truck driver, falls asleep at the wheel, plows his truck through his family’s home, and dies when the truck explodes.
It was weird. I was not expecting weird. From the trailers, I was expecting stupid, broad comedy. And, admittedly, Eugenio Derbez is a grade-A ham and there are multiple jokes about bleached buttholes in this thing. But also? It’s a little bit fucking Looney Tunes. I dug it. The guy who Maximo’s wife leaves him for? He’s a car salesman played by Michael Cera. Rob Lowe plays Maximo’s best friend and fellow kept man, who’s made to act out porn scenarios (“Did someone order one extra large sausage?”) by his horndog partner (Linda Lavin). Kristen Bell is peak Kristen Bell as Cindy, an oppressively chipper frozen yogurt shop employee who sings all the time, has a cat-filled apartment, and says things like “It’s meow-trageous!” Ben Schwartz pops up for 30 seconds to tell half a joke. In addition to Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle, and Rob Huebel are all here, all being funny. At one point, Derbez and Lowe accidentally rip Raquel Welch’s prosthetic arms off. I think Ken Marino got hired to make this movie (don’t ask me how) and then just used it as an excuse to hang out with a bunch of his friends. Which is nice work, if you can get it.
But then, as the movie went on, something disappointing happened: I got more sober, and the movie got less good. Weird, right? Maybe it’s because “mildly buzzed” is the optimal way in which to watch a scene where wannabe toughs Robs Riggle and Huebel, having been ripped off by Derbez to the tune of $1,000, threaten him by grabbing his junk with all four of their hands at the same time. I suspect that’s true.
Or maybe it’s just that eventually Marino and screenwriters Chris Spain and Jon Zack had to hunker down on How to Be a Latin Lover’s plot situation. Left with nowhere else to go, Maximo moves in with his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and young nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Hugo has a crush on Arden (Mckenna Grace). Arden has a rich, widowed grandmother, Celeste (Welch, here for all of 15 minutes, if that). If Maximo wants to seduce Celeste, he has to finagle an invitation for Hugo to Arden’s birthday party, which means teaching the terminally nerdy Hugo How to Be a Latin Lover.
It’s just. Ugh. Who cares, honestly? It’s boring. None of the characters are well-developed enough to sell the quote-unquote emotional scenes, which mostly involve Maximo reconnecting with his family. Hayek, in particular, is done a disservice by a script that doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. Her subplot, involving professional frustration and whether or not to go out with a cute neighbor, feels pro forma and lifeless. There’s a scene where she drunkenly salsa dances in her pajamas, so her presence isn’t a total loss in this movie, but for God’s sake, give her something to do.
From the offbeat humor to the ensemble comedy cast to the lack of shits given about things like “story,” How to Be a Latin Lover reads like a watered-down version of something frequent Marino collaborator David Wain might have done. Very watered-down. Like five parts Wain to fifteen parts water. Which is better than I expected, if less than I wanted. Needed more Rob Lowe as a stripper cop.
No matter what your blood alcohol content is, “Horrible girl. One time she made me salt a slug just so she could remember how to laugh” is a great fucking line.
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