The infectious "American Adobo" takes its title from the Philippines' national dish, which may be any meat or vegetable marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic. As prepared by Filipino Americans, it acquires other flavors and ingredients, just as the immigrants may find their lives taking on new directions and meanings over their years in the U.S. while still feeling connected to their roots in their native land. It's a feeling that is at once a source of strength and conflict.

This sense of dual identity is also a source of humor for director Laurice Guillen and writer Vincent R. Nebrida. They never lose that sense of humor even as they embrace some wrenchingly painful moments in the lives of four friends who met as college classmates in the Philippines, now live in New York and still stay in close touch 20 years later. The arrival of one college pal, Lorna (Sol Ocoa), for a visit is the occasion for a celebration, and Tere (Cherry Pie Picache) has prepared one of her typically outstanding meals in her inviting Queens apartment, on a street lined with trees and gracious vintage townhouses. Everyone in the group is doing reasonably well professionally, living in tasteful quarters, but of course appearances are deceiving. Tere is a beautiful woman, ample in the Kate Winslet manner, yet despite her warm, loving nature and unfailing kindness, she has yet to attract a man worthy of her. The brittle and glamorous Marissa (Dina Bonnevie) has a successful career yet is more vulnerable than she would like to be in regard to her live-in boyfriend, Sam (Randy Becker), a laid-back singer-composer and casual philanderer.

Mike (Christopher De Leon) is a New York correspondent for the Philippine Times unhappily married to Gigi (Susan Valdez-LeGoff), whose inheritance has allowed her to indulge in nouveau riche tastes and a lot of grand airs. Mike and Gigi have two children: a little boy, Mark (Jason Verdadero), and a girl, the pretty but sullen Candy (Martha Millan), in her rebellious teens.

Gerry (Ricky Davao) is a pleasant-looking ad agency veteran passed over for a promotion but not giving up. Gerry has unexpectedly and rapturously fallen in love but has trouble admitting to his friends that his lover, Chris, is a man (Wayne Maugans). Gerry's struggles in coming out, especially to his mother (Gloria Romero, a formidable veteran actress) back in the Philippines, are at once the source of outrageous humor and genuine pain.

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This wide span of emotions is handled with a sure sense of control and compassion by Guillen. The shift in tone also applies to the plight of Raul (Paolo Montalban), who is Marissa's cousin, and who arrives at the party typically late and with his latest conquest in tow. Raul is devilishly handsome and proudly callow but may be heading for a fall.

Once set in motion by Tere's dinner party, "American Adobo" unfolds during the course of a year. This span of time provides a perspective that imbues the film with a sense of the eternal human comedy. "American Adobo" is an intimate, good-humored ethnic comedy like numerous others but cuts deeper than expected.

The filmmakers and their wonderful cast are unafraid of emotion, and they catch us up in the lives of their people to such an extent that they can get away with some honest tear-jerking as well as some very funny business, including an amusingly contrived way of wafting a bit of romance in the direction of the lovely and lovable Tere. Not the least of "American Adobo's" delicious ingredients is lots of heart.

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MPAA-rated: R, for sexuality and language. Times guidelines: adult themes and situations.

'American Adobo'

Cherry Pie Picache...Tere

Dina Bonnevie...Marissa

Ricky Davao...Gerry

Christopher De Leon...Mike

Paolo Montalban...Raul

An ABS-CBN Entertainment and UNITEL Pictures presentation in association with Magic Adobo Productions and Outrider Pictures. Director Laurice Guillen. Producers Antonio I. Gloria, Vincent R. Nebrida, Steve Max Grenyo. Executive producers Charo Santos-Concio, Kevin J. Foxe. Screenplay Vincent R. Nebrida. Cinematographer Lee Meily. Editor Efren Jerlego. Musical director Nonong Buencamino. Costumes Lynn Falconer. Production designer Fiel Corrales Zabat. Art director Anna Valencia. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Exclusively at the Westside Pavilion Cinemas, 10800 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-0202; the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the Park Place 10, Jamboree Road at Michelson Drive, Irvine, (949) 440-0880.