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"CHASING PAPI"
(2003) (Roselyn Sanchez, Sofia Vergara) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: Three women discover that they share the same boyfriend and try to figure out what to do about that while dealing with some criminals.
PLOT:
Tomas Fuentes a.k.a. Papi Chulo (EDUARDO VERASTEGUI), is such a good-looking stud that all sorts of women, including his assistant, Mary (JOY ENRIQUEZ), are constantly swooning over him. He has a girlfriend, however, in the shape of Miami cocktail waitress Cici (SOFIA VERGARA).

He can't see her for long, however, since he has to travel to Chicago to see Lorena (ROSELYN SANCHEZ), his other girlfriend, a beautiful lawyer. Then he's off to see rich socialite Patricia (JACI VELASQUEZ) who can't stand her mother constantly fawning over her.

The women aren't aware of the others' existence, but simultaneously decide to travel to Los Angeles to surprise the advertising executive. He's been having progressively worsening anxiety attacks over the three women, and thus mixes alcohol with some prescription tranquilizers, a combination that soon renders him unconscious. But not before all three women descend upon his house, meet each other, and the fur starts flying.

Each is mistrustful of the others, but they join forces when they spot another apparent girlfriend, Carmen (LISA VIDAL), who's wearing a sidearm. They go on the run with the unconscious Tomas in tow, unaware that Carmen is really an FBI agent who's after some stolen money that was in the back of the convertible Cici volunteered to drive to L.A.

The recipients of that money, thugs Rodrigo (D.L. HUGHLEY) and Victor (FREDDY RODRIGUEZ), are none too happy that the women no longer have that money (of which they were unaware). From that point on, and as they await Tomas to regain consciousness and choose between them, the three women go through various gyrations, including posing Lorena as a beauty pageant contestant, as they try to find the money, rescue Tomas and grow as individuals.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I've pretty much resigned myself to accepting the current state of the romantic comedy and its formulaic and predictable nature. After all, they're apparently easy to write, the target audience seems to love them and their repetition, and due to their mostly consistent box office bonanza returns, they're going to be around and following the same formula for some time to come.

With that in mind, I was somewhat (not a lot, just somewhat) eager to see "Chasing Papi." After all, it appeared to have four characters in the "relationship" rather than the normal two, seemed to be inserting some new blood into such films and looked to be putting something of a wacky spin on the genre.

I knew this wasn't going to be high art, but I had my hopes for at least a little bit of a change from the usual trappings. Unfortunately, that change was for the worst. Rather than the usual competent if mediocre workings, this one errs from the get-go, never recovers, and might have a hard time entertaining even its built-in, ever-ready audience.

To be fair, the film - from novice feature film director Linda Mendoza (various TV shows) and her quartet of screenwriters, Laura Angélica Simón (making her debut) & Steven Antin ("Gloria," "Inside Monkey Zetterland") and Alison Balian & Elizabeth Sarnoff (making their collective feature film debut) - isn't a romantic comedy in the usual sense of the term, although it has elements of both forms. With its animated opening and early scene segues, one can immediately tell it's supposed to be light, fluffy and not taken seriously.

There's certainly a time and place for such films, but only if everything about them is constructed and then handled just right. Alas, but not altogether surprisingly, that's not the case here. Right from the get-go, everything feels too frenetic and, worse yet, forced. That results in what might have been an enjoyable enough diversion instead coming off as annoying and hyperactive.

Beyond the low budget look and feel of the overall effort and everything being played far too broadly, the film's biggest sin is that it's essentially a thinly disguised, big screen version of a similar plot played various times on the old TV sitcom, "Three's Company" (although in this case, it's four).

How many times over the years did we see John Ritter's Jack Tripper trying to juggle all of the T&A - I mean various women - that he was simultaneously dating? In essence, that's the plot here, but viewed from the XX side of the fence.

Even that, however, isn't terribly successful and certainly isn't played to the hilt, as there aren't enough close calls, deceptions and guises to make this a classic farce. To make matters worse, the film's title is even misleading as it implies that the three ladies -- Roselyn Sanchez ("Boat Trip," "Rush Hour 2"), Sofia Vergara ("Big Trouble"), Jaci Velasquez (a singer making her debut) - are actively after the title's character (although it's somewhat correct from a romantic standpoint, even such a pursuit isn't full-bore here).

Instead, the lothario played by Eduardo Verastegui (making his feature debut) spends much of the film unconscious (from an unwise booze and tranquilizer pill combo), resulting in the filmmakers throwing in a lame crooks and stolen money subplot that constitutes the actual chasing.

That's obviously supposed to add additional comedy and/or obstacles to the women's goal, both neither D.L. Hughley ("The Brothers," "Inspector Gadget") and Freddy Rodriguez ("Payback," "The Pest") nor Lisa Vidal ("Night and the City," "Mighty Aphrodite") as the FBI agent after them can do anything with their poorly written parts.

For that matter, neither can the four leads. While they present a certain amount of eye candy for both sexes, the characters are uninteresting and flat (from an artistic, but certainly not a physical sense, what with the abundant skin on display). As just mentioned, Verastegui is either passed out or paralyzed by indecision about which woman to pick.

Vergara gets the flashiest role and is briefly fun in it, but Velasquez gets the short end of the stick with her spoiled, socialite part. The star, of course, is the radiant Sanchez who not only looks but acts like a young Sandra Bullock (and even plays a clumsy beauty pageant contestant here just like SB did in "Miss Congeniality"). Unfortunately, there's not much to sustain her.

There is, however, never any doubt the three women will bond or grow as individuals after the initial catfight moments (which aren't plentiful enough in number or creativity) and that only makes the offering feel that much more unimaginative.

Mercifully short at just 80 some minutes, yet filled with flat characters, inane plot developments and behavior (even for a film like this), and not enough comedy or romance, "Chasing Papi" just didn't do it for me. The film thus rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed April 10, 2003 / Posted April 16, 2003


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