Movie Review for El Cantante (2007)

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Review #503 of 365
Movie Review of El Cantante (2007) [R] 106 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.25
Where Viewed: AMC Westminster Promenade 24, Westminster, CO
When 1st Seen: 11 August 2007
Time: 5:10 pm
DVD Release Date: 6 May 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from Marc Anthony - El Cantante - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Leon Ichaso (Piñero)
Screenplay by: Leon Ichaso (Piñero) • David Darmstaedter (writing debut) • Todd Bello (writing debut)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Marc Anthony (Man on Fire) • Jennifer Lopez (Bordertown) • Christopher Becerra (debut) • Federico Castelluccio (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) • Tony Devon (Step Up) • Romi Dias (Scar Tissue) • Bernard Hernandez (debut) • Vincent Laresca (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Two years ago, audiences were wowed by the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon when they 'walked the line' as Johnny and June Carter Cash. With a slightly different take as far as biopic structure goes, Director Leon Ichaso, nonetheless brings to live for millions of fans the likewise incredibly tragic lives of Salsa sensation Hector Lavoe and his wife Puchi in his film El Cantante (the singer). First and foremost, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez are outstanding. Sadly, I missed out on the entire Salsa phenomenon, and Marc Anthony's Lavoe makes that loss seem all the more palpable. His electric persona of complete confidence and faith in both his gift and his future envelope you in his life's story so quickly you don't really know how it happened exactly. And forget J-Lo, this is Jennifer Lopez the superstar.

"… a terribly tragic story…Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez are outstanding."
Told from Puchi's perspective and Ms Lopez's interpretation of her, the life of Hector unfolds as he grows up a young man in Puerto Rico and decides to leave his island home to make it big in New York City against the bitter hopes and dreams of his father who feels he's already lost one son to the City. Hector nearly immediately finds himself playing and singing in a band and then his headlining his own band with a trombone player from New York in a new Latin style of music called Salsa. Shortly there after, he lucks into the good fortune of a gorgeous girlfriend nicknamed Puchi who begins to take care of him. Unfortunately for Hector, as Puchi reveals, the more success he enjoyed in his professional life the worse his personal life declined. Like Johnny Cash, Hector got sucked into the world of illegal narcotics, in Hector's case primarily cocaine and heroine. As he becomes more and more enamored with the drugs, he becomes less and less cognizant of the need to participate in the rest of his life. He is passed out and late to his own wedding, forcing Puchi to track him down and marry him in the hotel nearly under duress. Their first child is born shortly thereafter. Ironically, neither person's family is sold on this notion of them being married, when it is pretty clear they need each other. Hector's addiction fiercely controls him, and he becomes less and less capable of living his normal life. He spends no time with his son, Tito, no time with his wife, and no time building his career that eventually, much like his personal life, begins to fall into shambles. This is an incredibly tragic tale that gets progressively worse, and sorry, there is not even a tiny bit of happiness in the ending.

As far as the film goes, it's a huge downer, and it's unclear how many films of the lives of the rich and famous celebrities who squander their good fortune under the weight of all the pressures to end up dead from drugs, alcohol, or other vices, the world can stomach before they say "enough". Do these people learn from the mistakes of their peers and predecessors? Seemingly, they do not. Worse for Hector, he contracted HIV from sharing syringes and died eventually due to complications from AIDS. The only good to come from the life of El Cantante was his legacy of music, which though not a small contribution, serves to remind his fans of his tragic and wasted life. In many ways, the film seems a lot like a "been there, seen than" kind of affair, only with different players involved. And given the tragic conclusion, there's no way to leave the film feeling anyway but down. There's only a glimmer of inspiration here and there from a man who seemed to live in the moment for the love of the moment without regard for the consequences of his decisions. Nonetheless, Marc Anthony's and Jennifer Lopez's performances were high-powered and amazingly engaging. She doesn't sing, but sometimes you might find yourself wishing she just would. Maybe she could sing the pain away. Sadly, unlike with Walk the Line, we really have no clue what actually motivated Hector Lavoe or what made him the person he was. While the performances drew us in and made us care about him, we were left wondering why, which may, in fact, be the same effect he had on everyone else. Certainly, there was no reason why Puchi should have been drawn to him, but she was. Still, better choices in providing background rather than forcing the audience to draw conclusions that may or may not have been accurate decreased the impact of the film overall. What is left represents a terribly tragic story but not much hope. There are lessons to be learned from Hector Lavoe's crash course in how not to live one's life in the fast lane, however it's a lesson that will fall on deaf ears for those who need it and the rest of us are not even on the same highway let alone same lane as Hector.

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Cast Members
Marc AnthonyJennifer LopezChristopher Becerra
Federico CastelluccioTony DevonRomi Dias
Bernard HernandezVincent Laresca
Leon Ichaso
Leon IchasoDavid DarmstaedterTodd Bello
CD Sountrack
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Review-lite El Cantante (2007) [max of 150 words]
Outstanding performances by Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in El Cantante the story of the incredibly tragic life of Salsa sensation Hector Lavoe are about all one gets out of this somewhat slow paced biopic that's been done a time or two before much better. Celebrities who get caught up in the world of drugs that sink their lives are all but cliché by now, and when there's nothing in the story to help illustrate why Lavoe was the way he was, the illustrative power diminishes even more than the impact of the trite plotlines. Still, Anthony and Lopez are to be given quite a great deal of credit for their performances even if the story and the direction did not bring about a film that might have heightened the eventual significance of the outcome of Lavoe's life and the legacy of his music.

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