"See, everybody loves him. It's not his fault."—Linda Mendoza
You know what you are in for from the opening credits: cartoon women swoon over a cartoon lothario from the moment he is born—all to bouncy latin pop. When the film switches to live action in the middle of the credits, for a second, it is hard to tell that anything is different. Sexy Tomas "Papi" Fuentes (Eduardo Verastegui) is too much man for one woman. Or so he thinks. So he keeps girlfriends in New York, Chicago, and Miami, bouncing back and forth.
There is jealous vixen Cici (Sofia Vergara), a Miami waitress with a hair-trigger temper. In Chicago, buttoned-up businesswoman Lorena (Roselyn Sanchez) longs to let her hair down. And in New York City, debutante Patricia (Jaci Velasquez) brushes her yappy dog (apparently legally mandated in movies with rich, pampered young women) and plans her wedding, even though Tomas has yet to give her a ring.
Well, of course he has no plans to give her any ring. He has no plans for anything beyond the next sexual conquest. Of course, situation comedy being what it is, you know where this is going next. All three women show up in Los Angeles, hoping to surprise their "papi chulo"—and end up discovering his deception. Panicked, Tomas pops too many tranquilizers and passes out. Hilarity ensues.
At least, hilarity tries to ensue, but it barely manages to bubble over the edge of the pot. Chasing Papi is the sort of movie written by committee and performed by soap opera stars who are more adept at looking pretty than delivering a punch line. Hmm, unconscious character, motorcycle chase scene—has somebody been watching Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown? In Almodóvar's film, soap opera conventions are satirized in a sharp critique of gender politics. In Chasing Papi, female empowerment is a theme that feels tacked on at the end to cover up for a lot of butt-shaking.
Part of the problem here is our central character, the womanizing Tomas. Eduardo Verastegui, while handsome, lacks the sort of charisma necessary for such an "irresistible" character whom we are meant to believe can even get nuns to throw over their vows. Tomas is meant to be a human cartoon, and Verastegui is barely a pencil sketch here. Vergara, Sanchez, and Velasquez are fetching, but seem forced into comic situations. Their comic timing is better than Verastegui, which is important considering that the pace of the movie depends upon them. If only they had better material. Without a credible "Papi" to give these ladies a narrative goal, the plot contrivances (the girlfriends check into a fancy hotel with the unconscious Tomas so they can force him to choose among them when he wakes up; everyone gets mixed up with incompetent gangsters) become all too apparent, less an organic process of character interaction than actors doing whatever the script tells them. Director Linda Mendoza tries gamely to cover it all up with rapid editing, fantasy sequences, and light slapstick. And lots of cleavage and shaking rears. She claims her intent was to make a 1960s-style screwball comedy. But the elements never seem to click.
Even a cameo by the always entrancing Maria Conchita Alonso only reminds us what we are missing. Paul Rodriguez also turns up briefly as a cliché gay beauty pageant coordinator. Rodriguez at least has the good sense to go uncredited. Oh well, at least the cast and director Linda Mendoza find this funny. On their bilingual commentary track (subtitles are offered), they laugh at their own scenes (even pointing out continuity errors) and have a good time.
Other extras on this flipper disc, packing anamorphic widescreen on one side and full frame on the other, include a briskly paced "making of" featurette (really the best part of the whole disc), a blooper reel, a limp hip-hop music video, and a trailer.
Chasing Papi is the movie critics desperate to see their names in the ads call "sassy"—or worse, "frothy." But any froth here is so full of air that you are likely to get gas instead of feeling sated. This movie only wishes it had the sharp eye for satire of its obvious inspiration, Pedro Almodóvar. Instead, this would-be "first chula's club" substitutes strong female characters with caricatures and empty speeches about female power.
But hell, at least it tries to look pretty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Linda Mendoza, Sofia Vergara, Roselyn Sanchez, Eduardo Verastegui, and Cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet
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