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Chili con carne
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by Chris Parry

"Proof that not all French film is artistic, insightful, or even very good."
2 stars

A French film that promises a lot more laughs than it is capable of delivering, Chili Con Carne manages to avoid a one-star rating for two reasons – the thoroughly enjoyable female lead, Valentina Vargas, and the occasional genuine guffaw it brings to the audience. Sadly, neither gets enough screen time to make this a flick worth watching.

Vargas plays Ines, a Chilean immigrant with a somewhat bizarre homelife. Continually by her side are her ex-boyfriends, Pierre, Gabriel and Yannick, as well as her three children by them, and her grandmother. Throw in a transvestite soccer referee and you’ve got one weird lunch table going on – especially when waitress Ines brings home her new flame - a straight-laced button-down businessman who knows nothing of Spanish ways, lingering ex’s or the comforts of wearing a miniskirt while refereeing a soccer game.

Director Thomas Gilou seems to be stuck in this kind of middle-ground zone where his movies always come out pleasant enough but never important, as his other notable efforts, Would I Lie To You? 1 & 2, Black Mic Mac and Rai all attest to. While this kind of simple quirky comedy plays fine at festivals and on TV, Gillou takes a hammering from critics, especially in his homeland, who are often underwhelmed by his final products.

Valentina Vargas, on the other hand, has no such problem. Enjoying a steady rise to the top of the French film world and often crossing over into mainstream US success (The Name of the Rose, Hellraiser: Bloodline) her talent is only enhanced by the fact that she’s so easy on the eye.

Co-star and former French TV host, Antoine de Caunes, is less successful in his transition to the big screen. Stiffer and unemotional, even when his character is supposed to be otherwise, he leaves you wondering throughout the film, just why does this gorgeous gal want to be with this schmutz?

Ultimately where Chili Con Carne falls down is in veering too far from reality and hoping that Ines’ substantial cleavage and the occasional pratfall will make up for it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Certainly Chili Con Carne is watchable and it even has moments of charm that will take you by surprise, but when it comes right down to it there’s just not enough salsa in the pot.

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originally posted: 11/18/02 11:31:01
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  02-Feb-1999 (NR)


  02-Feb-1999 (M)

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