Directed by Sebastián del Amo. Starring Óscar Jaenada, Michael Imperioli, Ilse Salas, Barbara Mori. (2014, PG, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Sept. 5, 2014
Not just one of Mexico's biggest stars but one of the world's great comic actors, Cantinflas is perhaps less famous in the States than he should be because he really only appeared in a couple of English-language films, notably Around the World in 80 Days. This is a straight-ahead biopic, very much the traditional rise to fame followed by the corruptions therein with an upliftingly redemptive third act.
Unfortunately, this film assumes viewers will not only know an enormous amount about the life and career of Cantinflas (Jaenada), including not only his comic brilliance, but also the ins and outs of the Mexican film industry post-World War II. To the uninitiated, such as myself, apart from the familiar landmarks of a career's trajectory, a lot of what is going on is too lightly sketched.
Jaenada looks like Cantinflas, but he lacks his physical grace and charismatic comic personality. Most of the other actors playing familiar faces (Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, and the like) look nothing like the stars they portray. Playing Mike Todd, Imperioli reminds me of nobody so much as Joseph Bologna doing Sid Caesar in My Favorite Year.
Interestingly, this subtitled Mexican production made the decision to hook the whole film on the star's being courted to appear in Around the World. Certainly, that film is his claim to fame in the U.S., but is only one role in a spectacular and successful career (over 50 films, all featuring the Cantinflas character).
This is interesting and fun to watch, but not so much for what it reveals as for what it hints at. Cantinflas just doesn't provide enough for getting a handle on the man, but will have me, at least, doing further reading and watching as it really whets the appetite to know more about this great talent.