Tortilla Soup

With ticket prices cresting the two-figure mark, it's curious to witness the concurrent rise in movies that fixate on the preparation and consumption of gourmet cuisine. What's the point of ogling the delectable craft-services spreads in Chocolat, Woman On Top, and What's Cooking? when you can actually eat a perfectly good meal for a pittance more than a ticket? The makers of Tortilla Soup, an all-Hispanic remake of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, are hoping audiences will come for the fried bananas and squash flower soup, and stay for the warmed-over family melodrama. The critical hosannas for Lee's The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (according to Time magazine, he's the best director in the world) seem to have inflated the original film's reputation beyond its actual worth. Like all of Lee's work, Eat Drink is well wrought and superbly acted, but it's also his most conventional effort to date, overstuffed with draggy subplots that take too much time to resolve. For the remake, these flaws have been transposed with slavish fidelity, though director María Rispoll (Twice Upon A Yesterday) and her screenwriters streamline the plot a little and come away with a better movie than it had any right to be. Hector Elizondo leads a solid cast as a widower and world-class chef who still lives with his three grown-up daughters in Los Angeles, but worries with good reason that he may soon be left with an empty nest. The oldest and most devoted of the three, Elizabeth Peña, is a pious Christian and high-school teacher who falls for the unlikely charms of clumsy baseball coach Paul Rodriguez. Jacqueline Obradors, the middle sister, shares her father's feisty temperament and flair for inventive cooking, but her success in the business world threatens to send her to a high-paying job overseas. Sprightly and impetuous, the youngest, Tamara Mello, has trouble getting attention in the family, so she gravitates toward a handsome Brazilian student (Nikolai Kinski, Klaus' son). There are few surprises in Tortilla Soup, but few outrageous missteps, either, save for a vamping supporting turn by Raquel Welch and a couple of sisterly bonding scenes set to Nat King Cole's "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás." Though the story is flavorless and predictable, it's also warm, diverting, and emotionally credible, which is more than can be said for the multicultural mush of What's Cooking? or the lite magic realism of Woman On Top. The food looks great, too, for those fetishists seeking a little foreplay before dinner reservations.

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