Cinema Signal:

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: A Novel

. "Mad About Mambo"

In this movie, you'll see the emergence of a movie star. Make note of where you heard it first.

Her name is Keri Russell and she's the 24 year old title character of the TV melodrama, "Felicity". Up from the Mickey Mouse Club, through the soaps, she is the shining virtue of that pretty decent young college angst series, another feather in the cap of the ubiquitous writer-producer David Kelly.

If Kelly has nothing else (and he has much else--including being married to Michelle Pfeiffer) it's recognizing outstanding talent and exploiting all his or her possibilities, which he's still in the process of doing on TV and here, in a low-budget Irish love story which he produced (before "Felicity").

Having said all that, here comes the bad news. The story has little to offer in terms of freshness. It's poor boy meets rich girl set in an Irish town where soccer is king. He, Danny Mitchell, (William Ash), though his build and exploits on the field somewhat belie it, is the nominal leader of his team, striving to get with the "major" team, the Belfast Union. When his idol, a Brazilian ace soccer player is recruited to the Union team and is credited with that phenomenal "rhythm" that is part of Brazilian genetics, Danny, our hero, sets off to learn samba in the local dance studio. That's when he first sets eyes on the lustrous Lucy McLoughlin (Keri Russell), practicing for the big dance competition.

A natural pairing? Ah, but there's a catch. She has a boyfriend, a supposedly great dancer and a basically unfriendly fellow soccer player. Well, enough of the storyline. You probably see where and how it's heading since you've seen this story many times before. Soccer and samba are the only unique elements and they aren't enough to rise above the formulaic, low-budget nature of it all.

There's lots of dance footage and, while a person who is a fan of Russell's might want to see what she can do "on the boards", the over-editing is another distraction. What I saw is that in her stretches and movements she has an exceedingly graceful and poetic line. But her routines are not sustained long enough to judge her overall expertise. This might have been done to mask her (or his) limitations, but I think I saw enough to be impressed with her assured and confident movements and footwork. If there's any question about this trained dancer's terpsichorean credentials, you can be sure that her exquisiteness carries the day.

Also impressive is her Irish brogue which had moments of such accurate accenting and diction as to belie her birth in Fountain Valley, California. Born Keri Lynn Russell, one might think she had the accent in her ear from childhood. But, let's see if she can command a different country's idiom in another film that calls for it -- before we make too much of it.

It seems as though there's one English/Irish film brought to domestic shores and theatres every year by one distributor or another. And, perhaps because of canny choices, it becomes a sizable hit, starting with the extraordinary success of "The Full Monty" (1997), followed by a weaker "Waking Ned Devine" (1998). Well, "Mad About Mambo" looks like this year's British import -- though not necessarily this year's hit.

Or... is this an attempt to reach the audience of the charming 1997 Japanese import, "Shall We Dance" or the 1992 Aussie hit, "Strictly Ballroom" to name just two, almost all of which have a love story element? Well... Whatever the producer/distributor decision was based on to make and (eventually) distribute this film... while I sense a miscalculation here... as a vehicle for Russell's incipient film career, it's got my vote.

What doesn't, is the deception of the title which would seem to imply a cynicism which says that alliteration for the sake of marketing is more important than accuracy in describing the product. Booo. The dance represented here is Samba. So, it first will disappoint all those mambo fans looking for a treatment of their subject; it will not attract some samba fans (though we'd expect they'd want to see mambo, too); and, it will disappoint all dance fans because there's a lot more footwork on the football field than on a dance floor.

Worthy of mention is Brian Cox, playing Sidney McLoughlin, rich father of Lucy and local merchant, in a funny, if one dimensional role. This movie veteran is anything but one dimensional however -- a recent role being Herman Goering in the mini series, "Nuremberg". He's got a list of credits to match the best of them.

Rated S, for Standard.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I will recommend this reviewer
I've seen the movie and the review adds meaning to the movie for me
Rating: 6

I really loved the movie and ... i'm still watching it because i've got the DVD but i'm really wondering where can i find the song they're dancing on in oliver's pool???

                                                   ~~ Olivier
Very well written
This review will influence me to recommend and read more by this reviewer

I just liked the movie

                                                   ~~ geoffrey w.
Poorly written
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 6

The reason I disagree is that that I think this reviewer should pay a little more attention to the lessons learned than the common storyline and the money they spent to make it. I found it a very heartwarming movie with a good theme and I just think you should respect it a little more than you do now.

                                                   ~~ Andrew B.

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