By Mark Olsen
7:35 PM EDT, October 3, 2013
Hot on the heels of the surprise success of "Instructions Not Included," which quickly became the all-time highest-grossing Spanish language film in the U.S., comes another movie aimed at the same audience. "Pulling Strings," also being released by "Instructions" distributor Pantelion Films, looks to do potential crossover audiences one better with a story that allows the language to be split between Spanish and English. Serving mostly as a strong calling card for star Jaime Camil, the film has an appealingly loose, slightly ramshackle charm.
The story is set in Mexico City, where Alejandro (Camil) has seen his career as a mariachi singer falter since having to focus more on raising his daughter after losing his wife. He applies for a visa so he and the little one can visit her grandparents across the border but is denied by Rachel (Laura Ramsey), a young U.S. Embassy worker who is about to be transferred to London.
When a chance encounter brings them together again and Rachel loses her boss' diplomatic laptop, Alejandro sees a chance to win her over and gain his visa. It's a flimsy, even nonsensical, premise that nevertheless throws the action in motion so that adventure, romance and a bit of singing can ensue.
The film was directed by Pitipol Ybarra from a script with four credited writers, and in this crosscultural experiment, the least convincing part, oddly, is the portrayal of the crossing of cultures. Ramsey's character understands some Spanish, while wisecracking friend and coworker Carol (Aurora Papile) seems to speak almost none. (Let's hope the actual U.S. foreign service staff in Mexico City does better in that regard.)
This is largely to allow Alejandro's buddy Canicas (Omar Chaparro) to crack wise about the girls in Spanish without them fully understanding him. As wacky sidekicks, Chaparro and Papile have a charged, goofball chemistry that nearly draws away from the main story.
Having Camil's character as a leader of a mariachi band is really a saving grace for the movie, as the occasional breaks for songs allow the film to exist as if in the heightened reality of a movie musical. In the face of Camil's full-on charm offensive, Ramsey comes across as wooden and uncertain. Playing Rachel's mother, Stockard Channing steals every scene she's in because, well, she's Stockard Channing. (About all that need be said of Tom Arnold's performance as a bumbling Embassy administrator is that he is not Stockard Channing.)
Regardless of how it matches up to the box-office numbers of "Instructions," the mariachi-flavored romantic comedy of "Pulling Strings" makes for a fun little number.
MPAA rating: PG for language and brief smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: In general release
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