Tortilla Soup

The first time around, Tortilla Soup was Eat Drink Man Woman, a delightful movie from now superhot director Ang Lee, frequent collaborator James Schamus, and Wang Hui-Ling. The movie followed the stories of a father and his three daughters. The father was a chef who was losing his sense of taste. His daughters were adults, all moving in separate directions. His family and his life were breaking apart. The movie was about strong familial love, bonds, and above all else, mouth-watering displays of food. Lee, Schamus, and Wang managed to add much humor and emotion to the story, which easily translates to other cultures, in terms of story and food. Which is what director Maria Ripoll (Twice Upon a Yesterday, Domain of the Sense) did with the help of adapters Ramon Menendez (Money for Nothing, Stand and Deliver), Tom Musca (Flight of Fancy, Melting Pot), and Vera Blasi (Woman on Top).

The four of them take a wonderful film and make it bland. The only standouts are the food (this time Mexican, yet not conceived by a Mexican, go figure) and the performances of Hector Elizondo, and to a lesser degree, Paul Lopez (who is surprising good in a serious role). Elizondo (The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride) is Martin Naranjo, owner of a traditional Mexican restaurant. His daughters are Leticia (Elizabeth Pena, Seven Girlfriends, Rush Hour), heavily religious and a prim and proper teacher, Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), a rising businesswoman, and teenage wildchild Maribel (Tamara Mello, Rave, She's All That). Leticia is going nowhere, Carmen is possibly moving to Europe, and Maribel is in full rebellion. Martin has no clue how to handle his family. Ripoll takes many of the elements that made Eat Drink Man Woman so popular and waters them down so they approach melodramatic levels.

Leticia meets Orlando (Rodriguez, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Rat Race), a fellow teacher at her school and hesitatingly begins a relationship. Maribel meets Brazilian Andy (Nikolai Kinski, West Coast, Jamala) and quickly moves in with him. Carmen suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her. All this, and Martin no longer has a sense of taste. His family is falling apart, and he is trying to hold it together. Elizondo displays an acute sense of gravitas, and is able to radiate love and despair at the same time. His character feels helpless since he cannot seem to change the things around him. This is a subtle performance, unlike those of the actors playing his daughters. The story favors melodrama and situations more fitting for a telenovella than a serious movie. This is the type of story that needs a delicate touch, and Ripoll feels the need to hit people over the head with it. Yet even after all this, the food looks absolutely wonderful. Martin takes his time in preparing his weekly dinner, which all his daughters attend both out of a sense of duty and to eat some darn fine cooking. Make sure to eat before seeing Tortilla Soup, or even better, make sure to eat before skipping this and renting Eat Drink Man Woman.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content.

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