Facebook Twitter

Campy ‘How to be a Latin Lover’ is flawed but surprisingly sweet

SHARE Campy ‘How to be a Latin Lover’ is flawed but surprisingly sweet

"HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER" — 2½ stars — Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell; PG-13 (crude humor, sexual reference and gestures and brief nudity); in general release

“How to Be a Latin Lover” can be seedy, but it’s a lot sweeter than you might expect.

Directed by Ken Marino, “Latin Lover” revolves around the misadventures of Maximo, a middle-aged boy toy suddenly faced with reality. As a child, shortly after the sudden — and absurdly comic — death of his father, Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) decided what he wanted out of life: to sponge the high life off rich old ladies.

Thirty-five years and a fleet of sports cars later, things are going right according to plan. But when a 25-year “marriage” to an independently wealthy older woman named Peggy (Renée Taylor) comes to a sudden end, Maximo finds himself out on the street.

His best friend and fellow gigolo (Rob Lowe) can’t help him, so Maximo turns to his sister Sara (Salma Hayek), who he hasn’t spoken to in more than a decade. Maximo’s charms aren’t what they once were, but they are enough to get him an air mattress on his 10-year-old nephew Hugo's (Raphael Alejandro) floor while he plans his next move.

Opportunity comes in the form of Celeste (Raquel Welch), another single woman with a generous bankroll. Her driver (Rob Corddry) prevents Maximo from making a traditional approach, but then Maximo discovers that Celeste’s 10-year-old granddaughter Arden (Mckenna Grace) just happens to be the object of Hugo’s affections.

Gratefully, “Latin Lover” is a comedy, so watching Maximo manipulate his poor nephew in order to get at Celeste isn’t quite as distasteful as it might appear on paper. It’s pretty obvious early on that Marino’s film is about Maximo’s redemption, and sure enough, our protagonist eventually figures out that life’s best rewards come from selflessness rather than selfishness.

The positive message and some flashes of genuine comedy are offset with several flat moments, a running time that feels dragged out, and a predictable plot. But as a second-option matinee or just a lighthearted change of pace, “Latin Lover” is pretty fun when it wants to be. Its best moments far and away involve Maximo training Hugo to win Arden’s heart, and the scenes between the two kids will make you forget most everything else.

Derbez hits a nice balance between sleazy and sincere, and Hayek works well as his grounded and responsible foil. (A subplot about her budding romance with her neighbor is also fun.) “Latin Lover” also features a lineup of familiar faces in featured supporting roles, like Kristen Bell as a frozen yogurt shop manager with a bizarre cat fetish, and Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel as a pair of seedy, spandex-clad car wrap salesmen who get Maximo in their “bro” sights.

Due to the subject matter — which stays safely in the PG-13 range — “Latin Lover’s” kind heart isn’t quite going to be appropriate for younger audiences but, played for laughs, Maximo’s cringe-worthy underworld shouldn’t make older audiences feel too uncomfortable.

“How to Be a Latin Lover” may not make anyone’s list of all-time favorite comedies, but it might make for an under-the-radar surprise for some audiences, and it fits nicely in that wide comedy gap between the worlds of the minions and Judd Apatow.

"How to Be a Latin Lover" is rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures and for brief nudity; running time: 117 minutes.