Friday, May 4, 2018

Overboard: Floats delightfully

Overboard (2018) • View trailer 
3.5 stars. Rated PG-13, for suggestive content, mild profanity and fleeting partial nudity

By Derrick Bang

The rule regarding remakes is inviolable: If it won’t be at least as good as the original, don’t bother. Please.

As it happens, writer/directors Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg’s re-boot of 1987’s Overboard isn’t as good.

Things are about to get unpleasant: Little realizing that he's minutes away from humiliating
her to an unacceptable degree, Kate (Anna Faris) initially is intrigued by the devil-may-care
playboy antics of Leonardo Montenegro (Eugenio Derbez).
It’s better.

For starters, this new version is remarkably faithful to Leslie Dixon’s script for the original film, down to the setting in fictitious Elk Cove, Oregon. (Filming actually took place in picturesque Steveston and Fort Langley, British Columbia.) The key plot beats are retained, allowing for minor shifts here and there. The stroke of genius, however, is the gender flip: It allows for entirely new levels of humor derived from droll pokes at traditional masculinity.

Adding a cultural element to the mix also brings creative opportunities for hilarity.

And while it’s refreshing to see Anna Faris in a romantic comedy that doesn’t rely on eye-rolling moron humor, she has to work hard to keep up with co-star Eugenio Derbez, who’s no less than a force of nature. He pretty much blows her off the screen. Although beloved and respected in his native Mexico, his roles in American films have been minor until now.

That’s about to change.

Derbez’s line delivery is sublime; his comic physicality has the fluid grace of a dance impresario. He can be laugh-out-loud funny while standing still ... not that he does much of that, in this well-crafted comedy. The premise was rich back in 1987, and Derbez makes the most of it here; he’s amusing, feisty, endearing or woebegone at the blink of an eye, and he makes you believe each shift, even in a silly comedy such as this.

Events begin with a prologue, as the paterfamilias of the Montenegro family corporate dynasty — Fernando Luján, as Papi — lies in bed, near death. His daughters — the imperious, avaricious Magdalena (Cecilia Suárez) and the meek, artistic Sofia (Mariana Treviño) — are stunned when, following tradition, their father announces that the business empire will be left to their ne’er-do-well brother, Leonardo (Derbez).

The fellow in question is an arrogant, insensitive, spoiled-rotten playboy currently anchored off Elk Cove in his luxurious yacht, which is complete with, respectively, hot and cold running women and champagne.


Hard-working, cash-strapped single mother Kate Sullivan (Faris) races between multiple menial jobs while studying to become a nurse, and trying to raise three young daughters: Emily (Hannah Nordberg), Olivia (Alyvia Alyn Lind) and Molly (Payton Lepinski). In her capacity as a cleaning woman, Kate winds up dealing with the onboard aftermath of one of Leonardo’s babe-laden bacchanalias.

Leonardo’s disregard for boundaries rubs Kate the wrong way. Hostile words escalate into something more serious, leaving her in venom-spitting fury. Along with being even more financially imperiled.

Shortly thereafter, an accident results in Leonardo washing ashore with a case of total amnesia: no memory of who he is, or where he has come from. Magdalena, newly arrived to share the news of their father’s impending death, smells an opportunity ... and deliberately fails to identify Leonardo in the hospital. 

News of this “mystery man” spreads, and Kate recognizes him. Encouraged by best friend Theresa (Eva Longoria) — who, with her husband Bobby (Mel Rodriguez), co-owns a pizza joint — Kate crafts a complex scheme. Armed with a fake marriage certificate, doctored photos, an earnest smile and the willing participation of her daughters, she rushes into the hospital room in relief that her “husband” is alive.

What follows is the epitome of revenge served cold, as Kate gaslights “Leo” with the hard-working life he cannot remember: as a recovering alcoholic; as a family chef and housecleaner (the agreed-upon arrangement, because Kate is busy studying); and — most importantly — as part of Bobby’s hard-working construction crew. 

All of whom immediately dub the newcomer “Lady Hands,” because of the smooth palms that appear never to have seen a day of work. (True that.)

Between the time spent with the Montenegro family, and with Bobby’s crew, this film is completely bilingual. It’s incredibly refreshing to see so many supporting characters use their own language, as opposed to the traditional Hollywood cop-out of having everybody speak English. Nor is it merely the appropriate application of language; the members of Bobby’s crew are played by a quartet of scene-stealers — Vito (Jesús Ochoa), Jason (Josh Segarra), Burro (Omar Chapparro) and Burrito (Adrian Uribe) — who bring welcome cultural depth to these proceedings.

These men revel in their heritage, even as Fisher and Greenberg’s script pokes gentle fun at the stereotypical Latino alpha male.

It’s also no accident that the cook at Theresa and Bobby’s pizza café is hooked on the melodramatic intricacies of telenovelas, because it rapidly becomes clear that Overboard is constructed in precisely the same manner, replete with exaggerated character archetypes. We’ve not had this much fun spoofing a cultural institution since America Ferrera charmed us during four seasons of television’s Ugly Betty.

Goodness, even the anonymous crew members aboard Leonardo’s yacht get enjoyable moments, as the story progresses. Their “first among equals” is the ship’s steward, Colin, played with understated sophistication by Scottish actor John Hannah: an intriguing note of British savoir faire in an otherwise risible environment.

On the other hand, Swoosie Kurtz is completely wasted in an under-developed — and wholly superfluous — role as Kate’s mother. This pointless character does nothing to advance the plot; frankly, removing her entirely would have improved the pacing of a film that, despite its many charms, wears a bit thin at 112 minutes.

Otherwise, though, Fisher and Greenberg are careful to allow every actor — even the children — at least a few opportunities to shine. It’s important, in an ensemble endeavor, to ensure that no single performer overwhelms either the story, or the rest of the cast. The strength of Derbez’s alternately hilarious and endearing antics results, in great part, from the degree to which he shares his scenes.

This new Overboard is a delightful surprise. It’s bound to renew interest in the 1987 original ... which, let us remember, was the first film Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn made together, after they became a real-world item.

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