While Cantinflas the man was famous for irreverent, improvisatory comedy, Cantinflas the film is an uncritical, stiff biopic. The only thing memorable about the film’s depiction of Mexican movie star Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno’s rise to mega-popularity is its bifurcated plot. Cantinflas begins in 1955 with the story of would-be Hollywood producer Michael Todd (Michael Imperioli) and his struggle to bankroll an adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days.
Michael’s search for international stars leads to a series of decades-spanning flashbacks revealing how young Moreno (Óscar Jaenada) transformed into the performer who saved Todd’s film. Todd’s half of Cantinflas is consistently unbearable, since so much of it relies on viewers’ ingrained hatred of Maurice (J.C. Montes-Roldan), Michael’s cartoonishly haughty, effete (read: French) business partner. But Jaenada is pleasant enough to salvage the first half of Moreno’s story, which focuses on his many triumphs over know-nothing detractors, like rival Manuel Medel (Esteban Soberanes).
Sadly, Jaenada’s not strong enough to carry Cantinflas once Moreno is famous — the film considers the star’s accomplishments self-evident. He’s treated like a saint for demanding a stronger actors’ union, but we never learn why he cares about the union, outside of a screaming match with a corrupt politician. Worse still, Moreno’s instantly forgiven for cheating on wife Valentina (Ilse Salas) even after he bathetically stands outside during a thunderstorm and cries upon learning she’s infertile.
By ignoring Moreno’s wise-ass charms, and over-praising his appeal as an irrepressible underdog, Cantinflas wears viewers down with earnest hero worship.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2014