CAPSULE: This is a pseudo-documentary about the minuscule rise and subsequent fall of a Scots-English man who was raised Mexican and who despite his non-Mexican look and lack of talent is determined to be a Ranchera singer. The film is trying to say something about assimilation and cultural identity, but there are better and clearer films on the subject out there. Some of the humor is amusing and some just falls flat. The highpoint of the film is the performance of the two familiar actors, Lupe Ontiveros and Danny Trejo. Amy French and Spencer John French act and star in the film with Amy also directing. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
The success of THIS IS SPINAL TAP paved the way for a whole genre of satirical pseudo-documentaries. By now a market has been saturated. A new mockumentary has to offer a fairly sharp wit or it could go ignored. Christopher Guest seems to have the knack; the Frenches need practice. Ranchera is a style of music from Mexico that is generally done with one singer and one guitar. And the singer generally looks Mexican. As the film opens we see Juan Frances has arrived for a gig, but people do not believe he is a ranchera singer because he looks even more gringo than most gringos. He is pudgy, rose-complected, and balding. This is Juan Frances, born Jonathan French (played by Spencer John French). He is of English-Scots heritage, but his parents died when he was three months old and he was adopted by his Chicano nanny, Nena (Lupe Ontiveros from EL NORTE and REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES) and E. J. (Danny Trejo of MACHETE). Both of these performances are real assets to the film, by the way. Trejo is one of these actors like The Rock who comes from a very different background but who looks really good on camera from the very first frame. Trejo and Ontiveros go together on the screen like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. But I digress.
As a boy Juan Frances saw a vision of the Virgin of Guadaloupe and came away convinced that he had to be a singer. He writes and sings his own songs and nobody seems to notice he is terrible at both. Now he is 33, the same age that Jesus was when he was crucified. In what he calls his "Jesus Year" Juan is going to try to become a great ranchera star. Though he looks and dresses like a gas station attendant, he intends to become a glamorous attraction. Ready to use him are a manager and a sexy stage partner (David Franco and Maria Esquivel). Juan has surprises ahead, but none that are worth the wait.
EL SUPERSTAR has not much of interest happening in the minimal plot. It is more a character piece and seems to be groping toward some message having to do with people pretending to be what they are not. Along the way it pokes what is intended to be fun at both the Chicano culture and the white culture. Having funny enough gags would make or break this film and sadly they do more of the latter. Only about one gag in ten is really amusing. When they start naming the organizations that arise in the plot with acronyms like P.U.P.U., P.U.B.E.S., and C.A.C.A., it signals a sort of desperation in the writing. Remarkably, one of the film's executive producers is Norman Lear who should know how to make ethnicity and culture based humor work.
While there are sequences that are amusing, the script does not seem to have been ready for the camera. Norman Lear should have been able to introduce the Frenches to someone who could have gotten more humor out of the premise. I rate this film a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. It will be released direct to DVD on January 18, 2011.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0855846
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/el_superstar/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper