By Dwight Brown, NNPA News Wire Film Critic
Nothing is drastically wrong with this rom/com. Nothing is drastically right. That’s the problem. This Valentine’s Day offering feels like a present that’s been regifted and passed along.
Jennifer Lopez took big chances in her last movie Hustlers. She played a streetwise stripper and that paid off, winning her accolades for that unlikely role and very gritty performance. In this synthetic tale, she’s an over-hyped singer/dancer who mugs for the cameras, never misses out on a press relations event and lives her love life in public. Sound familiar? With a script by John Rogers (Transformers), Tami Sagher (Inside Amy Schumer) and Harper Dill (The Mindy Project), based on a book by Bobby Crosby, the filmmakers have decided not to veer too far off her path. It’s a simple and safe decision. A feeble choice for audiences hooked on romance and looking for something fresh.
Superstar Latina singer Kat Valdez (Lopez) has arranged an unimaginable publicity stunt. She plans to wed her equally popular boyfriend, Colombian vocalist heartthrob Bastian (Maluma) onstage at a concert in front of her throngs of fans. Cameras will stream the event to millions. She’s been primped with hair and makeup. She’s donning a white wedding dress that would shame Princess Di’s. All is well until the internet blows up with these choice words: “Bastian caught cheating with assistant.” Clips of her man planting a kiss on that underling’s face are all over social media. It’s out there.
In a fit of desperation and revenge, Kat spontaneously decides to put all those cameras to good use and show Bastian that she won’t be humiliated on her wedding day. She asks a member of the audience to marry her. Who does she pick? Charlie (Owen Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums), a nondescript math teacher. Everyone’s shocked. It doesn’t add up.
Lopez is in her comfort zone. She sings in English and Spanish. Dances feverishly with a troop of hoofers. Smiles for the lens and is about as deep emotionally as any megastar trying to hog the spotlight. Unfortunately, because she doesn’t stretch as an artist, that lack of innovation may make her fans yawn, while others who admired her Hustlers’ work may now consider that just an anomaly. Lopez’s talent as an entertainer is unquestionable. Her “Superbowl LIV Halftime Show” put her in a category all her own. But don’t blame audiences if they want more than this.
The production crew’s work isn’t extraordinary. The cinematography (Florian Ballhaus, The Devil Wears Prada), production design (Jane Musky, Hustlers) and editing (Michael Berenbaum) are efficient. The ornate costumes (Caroline Ducan) and dazzling choreography (Tabitha Dumo) a bit better. And the score’s songs and performances are the film’s most compelling attributes. The sweet pop song “Marry Me,” written and song by Maluma and Lopez, finds both singers in good voice and rare form. The very catchy and previously released reggaeton hit “Pa Ti,” also written by the very sexy pair, was popular last year and sets down a nice Latinx vibe.
Speaking of sexy pairs. Why does the movie focus on Kat and Charlie and not on Kat and Bastian? The latter coupling has real chemistry. An attraction that’s lacking between Lopez and Wilson. Yes, that’s the point of the story, two disparate souls coming together. But the singer and teacher are about as comfortable as distant cousins. What if the script had tipped the storyline in the opposite direction? What if Kat was getting ready to marry Charlie who was a wealthy record mogul (a la Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola), when a young, poor up-an-coming singer named Bastian decided to pursue her? For Lopez and Maluma fans, that scenario would be far more appealing and romantic than what’s on view.
Director Kat Coiro neither adds or subtracts from the tone, pacing or performances. Plot pieces fit together OK. The supporting cast does their jobs: John Bradley (Moonfall) as Kat’s manager, Michelle Buteau as an assistant and Khalil Middleton as her photographer. Chloe Coleman (My Spy) as Charlie’s daughter and Sarah Silverman as Charlie’s fellow teacher. And you can’t deny Lopez and Maluma are fun to watch. That said, it still feels like something is lacking.
Hardcore rom/com fans who hold Love Actually or Julia Roberts’ My Best Friend’s Wedding in high esteem, may may say themselves: “They don’t make romantic movies like the used to.” Other lovers of love may ignore the film’s paint-by-numbers formula and enjoy the Lopez/Maluma pairing for what it is: Two Latin music stars in their glory but not in a glorious film.
In theaters now and on Peacock.
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