"El Cantante" can best be described by paraphrasing Denis Leary: "I'm stoned; I'm nobody. I'm stoned; I'm famous. I'm stoned; I'm dead." If you've seen 'The Doors' or any other movie about musicians with drug issues, you've seen 'El Cantante.' Marc Anthony may be playing 70s and 80s Salsa king Hector Lavoe, but the story depicted in the film is so generic that he might as well be playing Frankie Lyman or Jim Morrison.Viewers can spend nearly two hours watching 'El Cantante' without learning what Lavoe was like or even why his music was special. The movie plays less like a biopic and more a severely extended trailer for one.
It's almost as if director Leon Ichaso, who shares script credit with Todd Antony Bello and David Darmstaedter, chose not to write a screenplay but to follow a rigid template of clichés.
While we get the montages of Lavoe wowing crowds and the usual Freudian difficulties with his father, we never get to hear more than a quick sample of one of his tunes. We never get to hear either enough of the tunes to get a feel for Lavoe's style or the intriguing variations a talented singer like Anthony can give them.
Before dying of AIDS, which he may have been contracted from sharing needles, in 1993, Lavoe went from a poor Puerto Rican immigrant to conquering the nation with his singing, first with band leader Willie Colón (John Ortiz) and then on his own.
Lavoe had a turbulent, occasionally fascinating life, but Ichaso manages to reduce it to tiny sound bites and removes all of the emotional impact his story might have had. This is especially appalling because Colón actually contributed to the soundtrack. Why recruit him if you’re going to truncate his trademark shound.
Lavoe’s success is reduced to a series of album cover montages, and the deaths of those close to him happen abruptly, never giving viewers the chance to care about what happens.
In the end, Lavoe comes off simply as a spoiled stoner. People who knew him indicated he had a charm that almost made them forgive him for missing gigs to get high.
The screenwriters were too busy reciting factoids and beefing up the importance of Lavoe’s wife Puchi (Jennifer Lopez). As a result Anthony, who proved to be a terrific actor in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” and “Man on Fire,” has nothing to work with.
Lopez feels more like an annoyance than a central character. There are dozens of shots of her dancing with Lavoe’s accompanists, even though she seems to do little else. Even though she and Anthony are married in real life, they have little on screen chemistry.The makers of “El Cantante” have committed an unpardonable sin in making the film. What good is a movie about salsa music that has no heat?