Bella

Starring Eduardo Verástegui and Tammy Blanchard. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. Rated G. Opens Friday, April 11, at the Park Theatre and the Cinemark Tinseltown

There’s a difference between pleasing the crowd and hugging all the oxygen out of your audience—and Bella definitely edges toward asphyxiation.

The genuinely well-meaning film stars Mexican heartthrob Eduardo Verástegui as Jose, a former soccer star with a secret—if you can call something that is telegraphed, talked about, and seen in flashbacks a secret. Anyway, something bad ruins Jose’s career. Still, he washes up as head chef of the Manhattan restaurant of his tightly wound brother (cast standout Manny Perez).

Jose spends most of the movie in a white smock and a full growth of hair and beard—kind of a cross between Jesus and Wolfgang Puck—and he is the kind of cook ready to walk away during the lunch rush because somebody needs him. That somebody is Nina (the annoying Tammy Blanchard), a server fired when we meet her because she is perpetually late. This time, she’s really late, as in walking-down-Fifth-Avenue-and-staring-at-the-pregnancy-test late.

The rest of the tale, when not interrupted by needless flashing forward and back, consists of Jose’s pleas for Nina to keep the child. For his best argument, he takes her out to Long Island to meet his insanely well-adjusted, upper-middle-class immigrant family, who regale her with canned speeches.

In the end, the amateurism of Bella is more disturbing than any pro-life agenda it may or may not be shoving down our throats. The title, by the way, only makes sense at the end of a movie to which sense is too much a stranger.

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