Trying to transfer the Latino magic of his arthouse smash Like Water for Chocolate to a US setting, Mexican helmer Alfonso Arau has turned out a glossy, fairy-tale romance that’s longer on wishfulness than believability.
Pic’s source Alessandro Blasetti’s Quattro passi fra le nuvole (Four Steps in the Clouds), a 1942 Italian film regarded as a forerunner of Neorealism, is a modest but sharply mounted comedy/melodrama about an unhappily wed chocolate salesman who briefly poses as a young woman’s husband to help her escape the ire of her rural family, then returns to his domestic misery. Arau’s Americanized, happy-ending version opens at the end of World War II.
Plagued by memories of combat horrors, returning vet Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves) is on a business trip when a series of train and bus mishaps leaves him stranded roadside with a beautiful fellow traveler, Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). She’s pregnant by a departed lover and Paul gallantly agrees to appear as her husband.
Surprised by the couple’s unheralded marriage, Alberto Aragon (Giancarlo Giannini) at first spurns his supposed son-in-law. Paul, though, is welcomed by the rest of the clan, especially gregarious patriarch Don Pedro (Anthony Quinn).
Arau stages all this with a determined gusto that at least has the virtue of consistency, and involves winning perfs from Giannini, Quinn and Spanish actress Sanchez-Gijon. It’s hardly her fault that the drama founders on a lack of electricity between the two lovers, because Reeves offers more in the way of looks and presence than thesping savvy.