El Cantante **
Directed by Leon Ichaso
Written by Leon Ichaso and David Darmstaeder and Todd Bello
Marc Anthony as Hector Lavoe
Jennifer Lopez as Puchi
John Ortiz as Willie Colón
Christopher Becerra as Tito
Federico Castelluccio as Jerry Masucci
Bernard Hernandez as Tito
Vincent Laresca as Ralph Mercado
Jerry Perez as Salsa Dancer
Manny Perez as Eddie
Nelson Vasquez as Johnny Pacheco
116 Minutes(Rated R for drug use, pervasive language and some sexuality. )
Now I've seen quite the number of biopics in my day, especially ones about musicians. There was "Ray," where Jamie Foxx played Ray Charles-and in the film depicts the musician playing great music, finding love, screwing around with many other women while his true love somehow stands by his side, and eventually falling into a habit of drug use. There was "Walk the Line," where Joaquin Phoenix played Johnny Cash-and in the film depicts him playing great music, finding love, screwing around with many other women while his true love somehow stands by his side, and eventually falling into a habit of drinking. And now there is "El Cantante," and guess what? Marc Anthony depicts salsa legend Hector Lavoe playing great music, finding love, screwing around with many other women while his true love somehow stands by his side, and eventually falling into a habit of drug use. This is a strong biopic formula movie from beginning to end, and Lavoe's life is shown in exactly the same light as Charles' and Cash's was. And so, if it is just formula, why did I give movies like "Ray" and "Walk the Line" a recommendation rating, and "El Cantante" a mediocre one. Simple. "El Cantante" doesn't even seem to try, and it's centered by two leads who do not bring any life into the people they are portraying. This could have been a life story of Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez and I could not have told the difference. Jamie Foxx looked like Ray Charles. Phoenix sounded like Johnny Cash. Marc Anthony looks like Marc Anthony and sounds like Marc Anthony. There is a reason why Picturehouse did not want to release this for the Oscars, because it certainly wouldn't get any. This is that studio's second biopic of the summer-the other being "La Vie en Rose"-and both of them were easy formula biopics-nothing special in both of them.
Now one thing that is easy to like about "El Cantante" is the music, because when the music is good, there is nothing that he script or direction could do to screw it up. I don't know much about salsa music, but what I have heard is great. And Hector Lavoe was one of the best salsa musicans around. After he met his true love Puchi at a party, she predicts that he will be famous one day, and then suddenly he is. The film passes through any explanation or description of how he was famous, and before you know it he is hooked on cocaine and herion and weed, etc. And before you know it he has a kid, and before you know it him and Puchi are fighting all the time as he screws around with other women. All of this is intercutted with clips of him singing in Spanish, and we get to read the distracting subtitles of the English translations of the song lyrics. And what do you know-the lyrics usually match up with what is going on in the plot. Very convenient. And before you know it, Hector is finally dead from AIDS. And that's the whole movie, and clearly that was all of Lavoe's life-and that is strong sarcasm.
I just can't sit through this same biopics anymore. I am so plain tired of how they depict all of these musicians in the same light. As if nothing happens. The picture starts with Puchi (played by Lopez) giving an interview she gave a few weeks before she died. And this interview is intercutted all throughout the film. And at the start of the movie, one of the first lines I think, was "You want to hear some funny stories about Hector? I'll tell you some." And we never get those stories. We just get Biopic 101 stories-he met a girl, he fooled around, he sang songs, he did drugs, he died. By the third act I was begging for it to be over, and the endless spiral downward does last forever-almost half of the movie really. And there was never anything in the script to give this a jump start. I didn't feel like I was living the life of Hector Lavoe. There was barely any background to his life before he was a singer-a mild reference to his dead brother is the best they came up with. El Cantante translates to "The Singer" and that is exactly what he see Anthony doing. Maybe because he couldn't act they got him to sing constantly.
I could imagine that "El Cantante" was made as a relationship project for Lopez and Anthony after Lopez' "Gigli" with her ex-boyfriend failed completely. And the fact that Lopez does look a lot like the real life Puchi probably helped. But Anthony did not impress me at all. He was playing himself-the drug part I don't really know for sure. Ha ha ha. But if Lopez wants to make somewhat of a comeback, she needs to get out of formula and become an original character. She stepped out of formula romance films and jumped right into formula biographies. And, in reflection, she really had shoes to fill. In all of these biopics, what I've noticed is that the female character is always the strongest. Foxx and Phoenix did great impressions of Charles and Cash, this is true. But in those films it was the women they loved who ended up being the real emotional core. And Lopez does her job here so woodenly, and so unconvincing that the movie did not have the heart and soul at its foundation that it needed. The two of them were quite awful, and that made "El Cantante" an ordeal to sit through. The only thing that I could recommend "El Cantante" for is the music, and for that you could just buy the soundtrack.