Pop Culture at its Best

Dispatch from the LA Film Fest 2015: ‘Puerto Ricans in Paris’

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A particularly hard type of film about which to write critically is the comedy of modest ambition that achieves its aim with an acceptable amount of appeal in playing, gags, plot, and outlook, but little more. One does not wish to criticize for not being more (not least as so many are so less), nor to overpraise its slight achievements, leaving one mostly in the territory of reportage, rather than critical appraisal. Which is a way of saying that such a film is Puerto Ricans in Paris, a perfectly inoffensive, oftentimes smile-raising fish-out-of-water/culture-clash comedy that does what it aims to do pretty much without fault.

The Puerto Ricans in question are Luis (Luis Guzmán) and Eddie (Edgar Garcia, like Guzmán, a regular on director Ian Edelman’s HBO series “How To Make It In America), and they play well together – Guzmán furrows his brow a lot, and Garcia is like a nice, gentle Vin Diesel. Luis is unmarried, although his woman back home, in bookend scenes, is Rosario Dawson, and he is quite ready to make a fool (but not a pest) of himself, chatting up the French ladies. Eddie is married to his partner’s sister, Gloria (Rosie Perez) and there’s an appealingly old-fashioned surety that he is not going to fool around with the French designer Colette (Alice Taglioni) whose stolen prototype bag they’ve been flown in to find, just as Luis will surely still keep a sharply suspicious eye on their growing closeness (they bond over her fatherless kid).

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As we learn from an affectionately cheesy opening sting, Luis and Eddie are NYPD specialists in smashing luxury goods counterfeit rings, and the missing bag is apparently a big deal. Hence they find themselves in Paris, with a nice short list of suspects to investigate through the process of elimination (and faintly-amusing disguise personae), on their way to a fake-out twist, followed by a not very surprising one. This allows them to interact with a variety of Parisian fashion characters from the obligatory faerie-queen in a striped jersey, to a delightfully haughty, hot mess colleague/friend of Colette. They trot through nightclubs, discover the joys of the locals-only corner patisserie, and indulge in thankfully little touristy stuff – this is no crass picture postcard of Paris, but there’s a good amount of texture simply in strolling the streets and bridges.

The culture clash element is in fact fairly underplayed – they are competent, fairly hard-nosed cops, who are faced with little in France to make them raise more than an eyebrow save the (not-even-that) outré outfits Colette has them try out in preparation for a party (game Eddie’s amusing pants get enough female attention that Luis changes his mind about them). Likewise, one could say that not a great deal is made of the Puerto Rican aspect either, accept for the family-values tradition perhaps, and, I inferred, though have no idea nor wish to offend, the priority of stocking up on the hotel’s linen and toiletries.

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So the film is pleasant enough, and aims to be little more. One may be grateful for its underplaying the potential ethnic and cultural conflict, and for the serviceably simple plot to carry things along, whilst being mildly amused at the contrasting characters, and thus experience abroad, of Luis and Eddie. It’s a bit of a stretch that Eddie figures the hiding place of the bag in the end, based on a cross-species deduction relating to the film’s opening bust; it’s much more of a stretch to buy Dawson as Guzmán’s girlfriend; and it is a shame that the photography seems more suited to serious drama than light comedy; but what’s really not OK, however, is to cast Rosie Perez in a movie – with “Puerto Ricans” in the title, no less – and then give her barely five minutes of screen time.

d Ian Edelman p Joseph Zolfo sc Ian Edelman, Neel Shah ph Damián Acevedo ed Justin Krohn pd Tania Bijlani m Jonathan Sadoff cast Luis Guzmán, Edgar Garcia, Alice Taglioni, Julie Ferrier, Rosario Dawson, Rosie Perez

(2015, USA, 80m)

 

 

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