Making Hollywood comedies with the large (and largely underserved) Latinx audience in mind is a noble intention—or maybe just good business, given the outsized returns Overboard co-star Eugenio Derbez’s last couple of films have produced at the box office. But why this remake, of all remakes? The original Overboard was barely profitable, and is more of a cult favorite than a stone-cold classic. Without Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and their effervescent chemistry, all you’ve got is a screwball comedy about kidnapping, made even more complicated by adding racial dynamics into the mix. True, gender-swapping the two lead roles does relieve much of the discomfort of the original’s more fraught dynamics, but it also gives us a white woman taking on a Mexican man as her unpaid laborer. And how does the film clear this particular patch of morally ambiguous brambles? The way Americans often do when faced with a thankless and difficult task: by outsourcing it.
See, Kate (Anna Faris), the struggling single mom left seething after billionaire playboy Leonardo Montenegro (Derbez) refuses to pay her and throws her off of his yacht after a carpet-cleaning gig turns into a shouting match, doesn’t really want to abduct Leo, as she calls him, from the hospital and take him home to serve as her husband/slave. Her best friend, Theresa (Eva Longoria), has to talk her into it. And she doesn’t really mean to fall in love with Leo under false pretenses; he’s the romantic aggressor and would have jumped into bed with her the second they met if she had said okay. Even Leo toiling away in the sun while Kate sits indoors studying for her nursing exam is contracted out, as Leo takes a construction job working for Theresa’s husband, Bobby (Mel Rodriguez), and a crew of fellow Mexicans who nickname him “lady hands.”
The way the script pulls its punches is less offensive than simply toothless, giving Overboard the feel of a film written by a focus group, or maybe a script-writing robot programmed with the latest demographic trends. Beat for beat, the story, and even some of the lines, are repeated from the original film—overly long running time and all—with the roles reversed. Man is rude to woman. Woman sees TV news report about amnesiac man washing up on the shore of her small Oregon town. Woman claims man is her husband and takes him home to her charmingly messy movie-poor cottage. Woman gaslights man into believing they’ve been married for 15 years. Man learns value of hard work. Woman’s children blossom under man’s gentle tutelage. Man and woman fall in love.
Once again, the burden of carrying Overboard, with its generic score and workmanlike cinematography, falls on the leads. Faris and Derbez aren’t a real-life couple like Hawn and Russell, so it’s hard for them to compete in the chemistry department. But they are both skilled comedic actors. Even here, though, they’re defanged: Breaking from Garry Marshall’s loose, improvisational style, director Rob Greenberg—making the leap to feature films after a decade in sitcoms—hews closely to the script’s mild humor and cornball exposition. (“I basically kidnapped the man!” Kate exclaims at one point. “So what? Obviously you’re in love with him,” Theresa replies.) That leaves Faris and Derbez with little more than pratfalls and line delivery with which to express themselves, a task Derbez handles with graceful ease. Faris, stuck in dueling modes of “frazzled” and “astonished,” seems to be putting most of her effort into staring wide-eyed through her bangs in her best Goldie Hawn impression.
One of Overboard’s only interesting modernizations is that about one-third of its dialogue is spoken in Spanish (subtitled in English, though that could easily be flipped for the Latin American market), but the jokes are so generic that nothing’s lost in translation. Its attempts at ethnic in-jokes in a script written by two white guys skew clueless and overly earnest, like a running bit about the universal appeal of the telenovela. It starts off bloodless and ends up saccharine, an amiably stupid way to spend a couple of hours should you take a nasty crack on the head and wake up in a multiplex with a bucket of popcorn and a soda in each hand. Worth turning your yacht around for, though? Not especially.