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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

El Cantante

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM

You'd think that, after the dreadful Gigli turned Jennifer Lopez' love life into late-night television's most hackneyed punch line, she'd stay far, far away from projects that feature husbands, boyfriends, fiances, etc. While El Cantante looks like Gone With the Wind by comparison, its fundamental problem is the same: JLo and husband Marc Anthony, who co-star in this biopic about the life of '70s salsa king Hector Lavoe, never stop being JLo and Marc Anthony. It's annoying, but that's not the worst of it.

El Cantante is basically a long (really long) music video broken up by flaccid, fleeting narrative and herky-jerky camerawork. The kinetic editing recalls cocaine scenes from Boogie Nights. But, instead of creating a palpable sense of drug-fueled tension (Puerto Rico-born Lavoe's legendary substance abuse is at the core of the story), the choppy 106-minute film feels more like a salsa-fied Blair Witch Project. The only tension viewers are likely to feel is the conflict over whether to stay in their seats or beat it before the next onslaught of nausea-inducing Marc Anthony musical numbers. Though the singer does a fairly credible job of performing Lavoe's material for the film's soundtrack, the redundant "live" salsa sequences are laborious, and the stylized English subtitles that accompany them have all the charm of an Applebee's corporate training video. We're talkin' corny with a capital Corn.

To be fair, Lopez and Anthony have their moments: JLo, in the character of Lavoe's longtime love interest Puchi, can be fierce, pouring on Latina fire when Lavoe leaves her character stranded at the altar.

But it's her famous ass that gives the film its standout performance: In an effort to get the attention of her burned-out lover, Puchi does an underwear-clad hoochie dance in front of the TV. It's El Cantante's "E.T. on a bicycle" moment. It's doubtful the film will be remembered for anything else.

Poor Marc Anthony has a lot to shoulder here, as none of the supporting cast get developed beyond nods and winks. Even the couple's doomed young son is wallpaper. While Anthony is passable as Lavoe, he doesn't make a convincing junkie. He never seems to look any worse in decline than he does in his pre-heroin character.

Those looking for a musical biography film fare should skip this and find a copy of the excellent Chet Baker doc, Let's Get Lost. Jazz great Baker and salsa great Lavoe had surprisingly similar trajectories — right down to tumbling out of apartment windows. But, while El Cantante pilfers the black-and-white interview segments from Let's Get Lost, it's to no effect. El Cantante isn't the worst musical docudrama of all time, it's just pretty effin' weak.

Wendy Case writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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