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Tortilla Soup

Starring Hector Elizondo; Paul Rodriguez and Raquel Welch
Screenplay by Tom Musca & Ramón Menéndez and Vera Blasi
"Inspired" by the film Eat Drink Man Woman
Directed by Maria Ripoll

IN SHORT: A good dateflick which could have been a great movie. [Rated PG-13 for sexual content. 100 minutes]

Since Ang Lee made food the star of his Eat Drink Man Woman back in 1994 (and received an Academy Award nomination for it as well) we've seen at least one "food is the star" movie every three years. What's Cooking featured Mom at the head of the clan. Tortilla Soup features Dad, who runs a restaurant and is a whiz in the kitchen -- except for the fact that he is lacking the senses of Taste and Smell.

Martin Naranjo (Hector Elizondo), a widower of 15 years has three daughters still in the house: Business whiz Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), college bound Maribel (Tamara Mello) and the incredibly devout old maid school teacher Leticia (Elizabeth Peña). Martin wishes the girls would get lives and get out of the house, as long as they ask him first. The girls think daddy wants them to stay. Everybody will stumble across significant relationships in the course of the film, which will shake up the status quo by the time the end credits roll. Martin runs a tight ship. He prefers to keep his cultural background intact. He insists that his kidlets stick to either Spanish or English, rather than the "Spanglish" mix that creeps into their conversation and his Epicurean creations draw upon the Mexican foods that he grew up with.

While the positives of Tortilla Soup outweigh the negatives, deep down inside we think that if director Maria Ripoll had paid as much attention to building up "her" characters as she did to getting gorgeous shots of food, then Tortilla Soup would have been a hands down winner. But she didn't. Two of the relationships that come to fruition in the film do so without the benefit of a single, traditional date. How they get to where they're going is clever, but doubtful. They are also a grievous waste of the talents of comedian Paul Rodriguez and siren Raquel Welch; he as a baseball coach smitten by the schoolmarm. She as a grandmother fixed up with Martin by her daughter Yolanda (Constance Marie). Rodriguez doesn't get to use his chops in the awkward approach by Letty. Welch and Elizondo could tear up the joint with their scenes -- Welch's character offsets her looks with an abrasive character that disses every cast member she comes in contact with, daughter included, in less than three sentences. Elizondo, who delivers the best facial reactions in the business.

We sat with a crowd that got comp'ed by Bon Appetit magazine. Food fans all, they loved the movie. If all we wanted was lovely pictures of food, we'd have gone to an IMAX theater. We, like the lead character, were deprived of 90% our taste and smell years ago and so didn't walk out hungry for anything more than a better script. What threw us, in what should have been a flat out romantic comedy, was one second of film so inappropriate that only people that live in or who have worked in the Hispanic community in El Segundo (the film's setting) or East Los Angeles would catch the meaning. Had it not been so inappropriate, we would not have mentioned it. Our firm belief that it would put as sour a taste in your mouth as it did ours is the one reason we're not going to tell you what it is.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Tortilla Soup, he would have paid . . .


dateflick level. Raquel Welch sat for a one on one conversation with our Paul Fischer out in LA. Click here for CrankyCritic® StarTalk

and if you must know, swipe between the brackets: [When Letty runs to tell Orlando that she loves him, too, Ripoll lingers on some sneakers hanging from a power line outside her school. Those sneakers belonged to, and serve as a memorial to, kidlets shot down by gangbangers. The last thing you need at a romantic moment is a reminder that dozens of kids get blown to pieces in drive-by's and never live long enough to make that romantic run down the street.]

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