For, Oct. 4, 2013

A wacky comedy from Mexico is breaking U.S. box-office records as the biggest-ever Spanish-language smash in North America. And yes, it's subtitled.

"Instructions Not Included" (aka "Instrucciones No Incluidas") stars Eugenio Derbez, who also directed, produced and co-wrote the film — and he's quite the big deal in Mexico, a popular TV comic who has starred in several shows.

He may also be familiar to Adam Sandler fans, since Derbez had a supporting role in "Jack and Jill" (2011), and was in Rob Schneider's short-lived 2012 sitcom "Rob!" (He also voices Donkey in the Spanish-dubbed Latin American release of "Shrek.")

But "Instructions Not Included" is his first breakout effort in this country, and it has become a juggernaut no one expected, least of all Hollywood.

As for the film, it's a farce with a familiar plot: a woman shows up on the doorstep of a playboy (Derbez) with whom she had a fling some 18 months earlier and announces that he's a father. She then asks for $10 for her cab, hands him the baby, and disappears.

Derbez makes his way to California to find her, but fails to do so. And through convoluted circumstances he becomes a movie stuntman, and over the next six years bonds with his daughter (played as a 6-year-old by Loreto Peralta).

The slapstick is broad, the production design is all colorful candy-coated pop art, and Derbez is a good physical comedian. Unexpectedly, about two-thirds in, when the mother returns and tries to take the girl away from Derbez, the film goes all squishy and begins to look like "Kramer vs. Kramer" … if "Kramer vs. Kramer" had been directed by Jerry Lewis.

I'm not sure if this will be every non-Hispanic audience member's cup of Mexican Coke, but it does have some very funny sequences, and Derbez and cute-as-a-bug Peralta have great chemistry together.

There's some question as to whether the Mexican-American community has rallied to make this movie a hit or if it's actually crossing over, but my wife and I enjoyed it, despite the fact that it's a bit too long and eventually veers into sappy sentimentality.



The Hollywood flicks this week are "Gravity" (rated PG-13), a highly touted thriller with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who encounter trouble in space, and "Runner Runner" (R), an online-gambling thriller starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. And two independent films are also playing around town, "Grace Unplugged" (PG), a Christian film about a young singer who learns how hard it is to maintain your values while rising in show-biz, and "Pulling Strings" (PG), a Mexican romantic comedy that features Stockard Channing and Tom Arnold in supporting roles. Also, another decidedly un-"Rush"-like racecar true story, "Snake & Mongoose" (PG-13), about the two 1960s rivals that made drag racing a popular pastime.

Over at the art houses, The Broadway Centre Cinemas has opened the French period comedy "Populaire" (R), a farce about a 1950s housewife who competes in a typing competition; "Haute Cuisine" (PG-13), another French comedy, this one the true story of the only chef to have worked for the president of France; "Wadjda" (PG), an Arabic film about a young girl entering a Koran recitation competition to earn money for a bicycle, which she is forbidden to have; and "Parkland" (PG-13), a dramatic recounting of the events at the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after being shot in Dallas.