Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.04%
Worth A Look: 13.04%
Just Average: 2.17%
Pretty Crappy: 28.26%

5 reviews, 16 user ratings

Latest Reviews

MLK/FBI by alejandroariera

Locked Down by Peter Sobczynski

Eye of the Beholder by Jack Sommersby

Brazil by Jack Sommersby

Krasue: Inhuman Kiss by Jay Seaver

Shadow in the Cloud by Peter Sobczynski

Curveball by Jay Seaver

Assassins (2020) by Jay Seaver

Coded Bias by Jay Seaver

Sylvie's Love by Peter Sobczynski

subscribe to this feed

Cantante, El
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"Vanity Project--Thy Name Is "El Cantante"
1 stars

In recent years, moviegoers have been inundated with a string of biopics that have charted the rocky personal and professional lives of famous musical entertainers–the genre has become so prevalent that a full-on parody of its conventions, “Walk Hard,” is scheduled for release this winter. Some of these films have been excellent (“Walk the Line”) and some of these films have had relatively uninspired narratives bolstered by electrifying lead performances (such as the ones turned in by Jamie Foxx in “Ray” and Marion Cotillard in “La Vie En Rose”) but they have all had one thing in common–they were all made by people who genuinely seemed interested in the lives of the people and the music that they were depicting and who wanted to convey that fascination to a wider audience. The problem with “El Cantante”–okay, one of the many problems with “El Cantante”–is that you are never able to shake that the inspiration for this particular film was less a desire to share the tragic story of the late salsa superstar Hector Lavoe and more a desire on the part of star/co-producer Jennifer Lopez to find a biopic property that would allow her and husband Marc Anthony to reap the same amount of acclaim and awards as the stars of those films mentioned earlier. Alas, the only awards they are likely to reap from “El Cantante” are those Razzie Awards they hand out to (dis)honor the year’s weakest films. This is a real disaster on virtually every level imaginable–a poorly acted, dramatically inert mess that slavishly follows all the ingredients of a typical biopic but approaches them in such a haphazard and confusing manner that it seems almost inconceivable that anyone could have thought for a second that it was a film ready to be shown to paying audiences.

Based on the evidence seen here, Lavoe appeared to have a life that was tailor-made for a rags-to-riches-to-downfall-to-death melodrama. In the early scenes, we see Lavoe (Anthony) happily singing with his father in Puerto Rico but yearning to journey to New York City, against his father’s wishes, in order to find romance, fame and fortune. Once he arrives in the Big Apple, he immediately finds the former in the form of Puchi (Lopez), the tough-but-sexy sister of a friend who is so enamored of this new guy that they have hardly spent ten minutes together before she is turning him on to his first joint. Fame and fortune quickly follow when his local club appearances catch the eye of music producer Jerry Masucci (Federico Catelluccio), who has the inspiration of teaming him with local trumpeter Willie Colon (John Ortiz) on the theory that combining Lavoe’s merengue stylings with Colon’s jazz licks could yield an interesting musical mixture–maybe it could be called “salsa.”

Needless to say, the fusion works and Hector, with Puchi by his side, becomes an international musical sensation. However, he quickly succumbs to the pressures of stardom by spending too much time with strange women and dangerous drugs and not enough time with the music and even his closest associates no longer find him to be dependable. Although Puchi tries to keep him on the straight and narrow, her enabling of Hector’s behavior and her own prodigious drug use doesn’t really help matters much. In 1978, Hector begins to turn his life around when he hooks up with rising star Ruben Blades (who wrote him the hit song “El Cantante” and makes a comeback but once again, he succumbs to his self-destructive impulses. After 1985, his final years are a depressing parade of professional disasters, personal tragedies and even a failed suicide attempt before passing away in 1993 as a result of complications from AIDS.

This may sound like a straightforward biopic and if it had been made along those lines, it might have made for a sturdy, if unremarkable, film. However, in bringing his story to the screen, director/co-writer Leon Ichaso has chosen to present it in the most confusing and obtuse manner possible. Instead of going from point A to point B and so on, the film jerks back and forth in time with no rhyme or reason to how the scenes have been put together. Even with the constant subtitles reminding you of when a particular scene is supposed to be taking place, it is almost impossible to figure out where we are in the story at any given point. The various story points are delivered in the most ham-handed and obvious manner possible and includes dialogue so hokey and cliched that you can’t imagine that any reputable screenwriter hoping to be taken seriously would stoop to use them. (To give one example, Puchi barges into a recording session and informs Hector that she is “late”–I am sure that you can fill in the blanks for yourself.) There is no effort to develop Hector as a character–he is defined here almost entirely by his self-destructive actions but there is never a moment that allows us a chance to understand the demons driving him down the path he has chosen. Most mystifyingly, the film doesn’t seem to have any real interest in Hector Lavoe as a musical artist–instead of showing how he developed his highly influential sound over time, which could have been fascinating and edifying for those of us without a huge working knowledge of salsa music, it basically tries to suggest that it just popped out of him fully formed. Good Lord, even “Spice World” at least tried to suggest that the Spice Girls had a sound that evolved over time, even though everyone knew that was a joke.

However, the flaw that really sinks “El Cantante”–literally right from the start–is the decision to frame the film as a series of reminisces from Puchi about Hector’s life and work for a documentary crew in 2002. From a narrative standpoint, this is a disastrous decision because Puchi is both a throughly unlikable character in her own right, especially as the story progresses, and plays too much of a peripheral role in most of the events of Hector’s life for her point-of-view to lend much of in impact. (In many cases, the film has her recounting scenes that she couldn’t have possibly been witnessed for herself.) There can only be one possible explanation for this emphasis on Puchi’s point-of-view and that is the fact that Jennifer Lopez was going to play the part and once she was cast, someone–maybe Ichaso or maybe Lopez herself–got the bright idea of beefing up the part to make the role a co-equal to that of Hector’s along the lines of June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” even though it is Hector’s story that we are putatively watching in the first place.

All of this might have been forgiven if Lopez had given a performance to rival Reese Witherspoon’s but her work here is simply and surprisingly terrible. She is abrasive, annoying and never for a single moment convincing as Puchi–the part spans the better part of 40 years but since Lopez never makes even a token appearance of looking the age of the character, it almost feels at times as if she is getting younger and younger as the years go by and that instead of a biopic of Hector Lavoe, we are actually stuck in the middle of a bizarro, salsa-influenced remake of “The Wasp Woman.” She so thoroughly dominates the proceedings that Hector almost comes off as a side character in his own life story–a feeling that is not helped by Anthony’s dull-as-dishwater turn as Hector that is rote at best and downright embarrassing at worst (such as the moment when he explodes in a jealous rage at Puchi while dressed like Charlie Chaplin for a photo shoot). Together, Lopez and Anthony have created the kind of wildly miscast and misconceived star couple vehicle that hasn’t been seen since. . .well, since the infamous “Gigli” and even that film seems more explainable in retrospect than this one.

Outside of some of the musical numbers, which Ichaso stages with a stylistic flair and energy that is pretty much absent everywhere else in the film, “El Cantante” is pretty much a complete botch from start to finish. For anyone interested in a good musical biopic, it will come across as an incoherent mess and for those with a vested interest in Hector Lavoe or salsa music, it will seem like an infuriating disaster in which promising source material was squandered at the feet of a couple of big-name stars wholly unsuited to bring it to the screen. Maybe one of those infuriated people will be inspired by this botch to go out and make their own film on the life and work of Lavoe and no matter what the theoretical qualities of that potential film, there is no possible way that it could be any more pathetic or ill-advised as “El Cantante.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15004&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/03/07 00:00:00
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/23/07 William Goss About as generic as musician biopics come. Lopez is especially grating. 1 stars
8/25/07 Adriana Excellent Film! The couldn't have found more perfect actors for the roles! 5 stars
8/05/07 Pedro El Cantante es muy malo 1 stars
8/04/07 Bill Gosse Someone should teach Peter the value of shorter paragraphs...and how to write. 2 stars
8/03/07 mg superb acting, music, i'd see it again 5 stars
7/17/07 Ray Atonishing! Definitele Lavoe is the latin Elvis Presley. A must see. 5 stars
9/28/06 jesus I Say in spanish: Es una porqueria, las peliculas de Lopez son mierda 1 stars
9/28/06 Michelle Total Crap!! makes Gigli look like a an Ocar contender 1 stars
9/18/06 Diane Browne This is one of the most boring films I have ever seen. Don't waste your time. 1 stars
9/18/06 Jack Handy UGG.. 1 stars
9/17/06 Margaret AWESOME MOVIE! Definitely a Must SEE! 5 stars
9/14/06 Rafa Great Music (better said incredible music)--BUT---the script and acting bad. 3 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  03-Aug-2007 (R)
  DVD: 30-Oct-2007



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast