October 26, 2007 03:00 PM

Cast: Eduardo Verástegui, Manny Pérez, Tammy Blanchard, Angélica Aragón

Written by: Alejandro Gómez Monteverde and Patrick Million

Directed by: Alejandro Gómez Monteverde

Rated: PG-13, for thematic elements and a disturbing scene

Grade: D+

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Bella is the new movie from Mexican director Alejandro Gómez Monteverde and fellow Mexican, actor Eduardo Verástegui, who’s known for his work as a model and pop singer, and for his good looks. Verástegui hasn’t had the best acting career, but that could have changed with Bella…but it doesn’t.

The movie’s plot focuses on José (Verástegui), a soccer player who’s about to sign a hefty contract with the New York Metrostars – in reality the New York Red Bulls – when circumstances shatter his dreams in mere seconds. He takes a job as the head chef at his brother Manny’s (played by Dominican actor Manny Pérez) restaurant, but he quits when his brother fires Nina (Tammy Blanchard) for showing up late one day. José and Nina develop a platonic relationship that reaches its peak in the final scene.

The cast has a lot of potential, especially Mexican actress Angélica Aragón, Blanchard, Pérez and Puerto Rican actor Armando Riesco, who plays José’s Argentinean manager. Riesco once again steals the show from leading characters, as he’s done in the few small roles he’s had. As for Verástegui, even though his role in Bella is his best cinematic role yet, his acting is better in the scenes when he speaks Spanish. This could mean that if he’d been given a Spanish-speaking role with a director the likes of Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también) or Fernando Meirelles (City of God), he could have surprised a lot of people. Unfortunately, his two prior movies, Meet Me in Miami and Chasing Papi, weren’t as successful as anticipated. But at least his role in Bella doesn’t pigeonhole him in the typical role of a cute kid.

If it weren’t for the strange rhythm of Monteverde’s script, Bella could have been a memorable movie. Some great conversations are woven into scenes that feature footage of New York, but the soundtrack doesn’t mesh well with the sequences. This “artistic” style attempts to emphasize the visuals, but winds up distracting from the dialogue. The script is also a bit disjointed at times, which makes the hour-and-a-half movie seem like two long hours.

Those flaws aside, the film is, at its core, very ambitious. Even with only an independent film’s budget, in structure and cinematographic composition, we see a movie that almost seems like a Hollywood effort. It was made in English instead of Spanish to have more commercial appeal, rather than be classified as a foreign film.

Even though the cast is mainly Hispanic, the plot isn’t a Latino story. It’s a story that could happen to anyone in any cultural group. The film shows us that Hispanic scriptwriters and directors can, in fact, present stories that don’t just deal with immigration and social-political issues, but rather stories about everyday life that every audience can identify with.

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