Tortilla Soup
a<1> Tortilla Soup (2001)
<2> remake
<2> comedy
<2> drama
<3> 4
<4> Some day a wise film society programmer will assemble a series devoted to movies about food.
Obviously, it would include <I>Babette's Feast, Big Night, What's Cooking?, Like Water for Chocolate,
Woman on Top<R> and <I>Eat Drink Man Woman<R>, which was the inspiration for <I>Tortilla Soup<R>, a
fine, if flawed, entry that would have to take its place on the bill. As with any of the other motion pictures
mentioned, my biggest piece of advice would be to either eat before seeing the film, or to make sure to have
reservations for a meal following the movie.<p>
Although <I>Tortilla Soup<R> is based on the Ang Lee-directed, Academy Award nominated
foreign-language film <I>Eat Drink Man Woman<R>, it should by no means be treated as a warmed-over
retread. While there are a number of similarities, this film successfully rethinks the original material. By
transferring the setting to contemporary Los Angeles and making the main characters Hispanic, the
filmmakers (screenwriters Vera Blasi and Ramon Menendez & Tom Musca,  and director Maria Ripoll) have
found intriguing parallels and similarities between cultures, proving all the more, the universality of the original
tale.<p>
Master chef Martin Naranjo (the always reliable Hector Elizondo) attempts to hold his family together by
preparing elaborate Sunday dinners for his three daughters. Martin, though, senses things are on the verge
of change; he has been gradually losing his senses of taste and smell and must rely on his
second-in-command, Gomez (Julio Oscar Mechoso), to advise him on the dishes he creates at the
restaurant he operates. The diminishing of his senses is also mirrored in the way he seems oblivious to the
needs and desires of his children: uptight spinsterish chemistry teacher Leticia (Elizabeth Pena who does
wonders with the most cliché-ridden role), eager-to-please businesswoman Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors),
and confused teenager Maribel (Tamara Mello), who often feels overlooked. The oldest has forsworn men
and dedicated her life as a born-again Christian (as opposed to the Roman Catholicism of the family) until
she starts receiving love poems she's convinced have come from the new baseball coach (Paul Rodriguez).
Carmen has a casual relationship with a co-worker (Ken Marino) but isn't really happy in the go-go world of
business; more than anything, she wants to be a chef, but to please her father she's gotten an MBA and
announces her intention to move out. Maribel decides to rebel in her own way: on the spur of the moment,
she forswears college and decides to move in with her Brazilian boyfriend Andy (Nikolai Kinski), much to
Andy's surprise and her father's displeasure. Also in the mix are a hot-to-trot grandmother (Raquel Welch, in
a slightly over-the-top turn that still serves as a reminder just how good a comedian she can be), her newly
divorced daughter (Constance Marie) and a handsome Spanish businessman (Joel Joan) who offers
Carmen the job of a lifetime.<p>
The film zips along at a charming and enjoyable pace. Several sequences are devoted to the creation of the
elaborate dinners (the food preparation and presentation is credited to Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger
of the Food Network series <I>Two Hot Tamales<R>) which should leave the audience pining to eat. The
actors all do fine work, with Elizondo, Obradors and Mello taking top honors. Although there are some rather
broad strokes to the comedy (and a couple of characters that verge on caricature), <I>Tortilla Soup<R>
ultimately serves up a tasty dish.
<5> Murphy, Ted
US Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 100 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.