Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) is a freeloader in the worst way; a 42 year old former seducer of older women who gets dumped by his 80 year old bride for a younger man (Michael Cera, making a lot out of a little) and has to move in with a sister he hasn’t seen in decades, (Salma Hayek). Maximo’s talents are put to the test again, as he attempts to find another bride who bathes in dollar bills.
That is the simple makeup of How to Be a Latin Lover, the hilarious new comedy from first time director Ken Marino (you’ve seen him in Wanderlust and Role Models) and the writing duo of Chris Spain and Jon Zack. This movie made me laugh out four times and produced a consistent comic vibe for its entire two hour running time. While very funny and ingenious, Latin Lover has a heart of gold to make all the laughs stand up, but it doesn’t overwhelm you sappy dialogue or manipulate you by changing Maximo’s motivations and attitude.
Marino’s talents as a director pull from his bag of acting tricks, which is derived from a sophisticated self deprecation brand of humor; in other words, making fun of a popular stereotype instead of taking it too seriously. The audience loves Maximo from the start because he is pitiful and hopeless, but that adds to the tongue in cheek appeal, and allows Derbez (who pleasured audiences with 2013’s Instructions Not Included and produced this comedy) to unleash his gifts as an entertainer.
Derbez is a Mexican film star in his native country, but is looking for crossover appeal with this adventure, and he’ll most likely find it. He has a gift for taking an ordinary screenplay and wringing some magic from it, while also showing off some physical humor. Just wait for the scenes between Maximo and his young nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro), as they work together to women. Those scenes could have been stuffed full of emotional dead weight, but the actors play them up for laughs.
Hayek doesn’t work enough these days, but Latin Lover is a perfect stage for her manic energy and comedic skills. Her Sara doesn’t think Maximo will amount to much, but it’s an entertaining trek seeing the ice on her feelings towards her brother thaw and a relationship grow. Maximo gets into plenty of trouble, but like the film, he has a heart.
The main problem with most comedies that start off sharp and edgy are the scripts lightening up and changing the character too much. While there is a sweetness to the final act of How to Be a Latin Lover, Derbez’s aged Casanova never changes his ways too much or becomes someone that the audience doesn’t recognize. A snake never changes its colors even if it does shed its skin on occasion.
Rob Lowe is well cast as Maximo’s fella moocher in crime and Kristen Bell’s “cat lady” has a few good moments with Maximo. Old flame Raquel Welch returns for role with some juice, but the real bite comes from Linda Lavin (a brief role in The Intern) who makes Lowe’s character do ungodly things to stay in the money. Marino essentially cast a bunch of his friends, and they all bring something to the part.
How to Be a Latin Lover won’t blow you away nor make you rethink what a comedy could be, but it will make you laugh out loud more than once, smile proudly, and produce a few well earned feel good moments as you cheer (and jeer) at the unfortunate plight of Maximo. You may even leave the theater perfecting “the Latin lover walk”. Stick around for the credits.
If Marino and Derbex want to get together for another Maximo adventure, that would be a sequel worth making.