If there’s a widespread problem in modern American comedies, it’s that readiness to give up a good joke for some sorry excuse for a moral about family values, friendship, being yourself, yada yada yada. How To Be A Latin Lover is a typical example. The premise is funny enough: A Mexican resort-town gigolo seduces a rich, much older American widow, only to find himself still living with her 25 years later. Puttering around on a gold-plated hoverboard (carried up and down the grand staircases by a maid), the paunchy, middle-aged boy toy Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) has resigned himself to a life of pampered boredom. He wakes up every morning to check his elderly sugar mama’s breathing with a mirror he keeps on the nightstand and leaves the mansion only for shopping trips and lunch dates with his only friend, Rick (Rob Lowe), a fellow trophy husband. But then he’s dumped in favor of a junior salesman from the local McLaren dealership, and finds himself out on the street with little to his name apart from a Louis Vuitton rolling suitcase and a set of monogrammed silk pajamas. The best that Rick—who lives off an allowance himself—can do for his buddy is let him hide out in his step-granddaughter’s princess playhouse. (It’s about the size of a California bungalow.) Who at this point is thinking, “Gee, this sounds like it has the potential to be pretty funny, but what about the importance of family?”
But, as studio comedy script formula dictates, poor Maximo soon finds himself sharing a Los Angeles apartment with his estranged sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), and her precocious 10-year-old son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Thus, he will learn to embrace the responsibilities and familial love he has long rejected (and so on and so forth), all while trying to seduce the fabulously wealthy grandmother (Raquel Welch) of Hugo’s private-school crush. Sara is a widow, too, but whatever potentially interesting undertones there might be to Maximo’s transformation from a lothario into a cool uncle who sets his sister up on dates and shows his nephew how to talk to girls are buried far out of sight. In fact, How To Be A Latin Lover is basically an Adam Sandler movie without the Happy Madison shingle. One could go down the checklist: the traumatic childhood prologue, the little kid, the gags about prosthetic limbs and the elderly, the bullies. The difference between this film and the majority of late-period Sandler flicks—besides the fact that nobody goes on vacation and that the dialogue is partly in Spanish—is that it’s pretty funny in spots. Predictably, the said spots have little to do with the sister-nephew business; they’re silly sights and slapstick gags involving mansions, shoe polish, or car wraps.
Directed by Ken Marino, a “that guy” of TV comedy, How To Be A Latin Lover boasts a predictable roster of comedy ringers (Kristen Bell as a crazy cat lady, Rob Corddry as a chauffeur, Michael Cera as a sleazebag, etc.), but it’s really Derbez’s show. Although he’s a successful Spanish-language star, Derbez’s biggest English-language role to date was in Rob Schneider’s remarkably short-lived and despised CBS sitcom Rob. Latin Lover, which Derbez produced, is in some respects an attempt to broaden the success of his own 2013 directorial debut, Instructions Not Included. And like that film, it’s cheaply mawkish and too damn long. But at least it can skate along on its star’s aging gigolo shtick. Wearing his salt-and-pepper hair long, like a human Pepé Le Pew, the fiftysomething Derbez saunters around the tourist-filled Los Angeles locations of a generically flat film that never looks half as interesting as its star. The most intriguing thing about Latin Lover, in visual terms, is the fact that its director of photography is John Bailey, who once upon a time shot American Gigolo, proving once again that cinematographers have the saddest and cruelest careers.