Deft, witty and surprisingly assured for a feature debut, Spaniard Maria Ripoll's English-language feel-good romantic comedy "The Man With Rain in His Shoes" makes pleasing, if slightly anodyne, viewing.

Deft, witty and surprisingly assured for a feature debut, Spaniard Maria Ripoll’s English-language feel-good romantic comedy “The Man With Rain in His Shoes” makes pleasing, if slightly anodyne, viewing. London-set pic’s attempt at a new twist on the theme of 20-ish angst is only partially successful, but the movie’s familiarity, international flavor and overall warmth could make it click offshore with the right marketing.

Tight script by Rafa Russo tells of Victor (Douglas Henshall), a struggling thesp in his 20s who has a private life that’s as messy as his red hair. Regretting his breakup with Sylvia (Lena Headey) — who is due to marry Dave (Mark Strong) in two days — Victor gets drunk in the rain and runs into two otherworldly Spanish garbage men, Don Miguel (Eusebio Lazaro) and Rafael (Gustavo Salmeron).

They quote a bit of Spanish poetry, which mysteriously allows Victor to travel back in time and start over his relationship with Sylvia. His task is to prevent Sylvia from meeting Dave; however, in his local pub, he meets drop-dead beautiful barmaid Louise (a bespectacled Penelope Cruz), which complicates matters.

The time-shift plot is fairly well handled, although without the elegance of, say, “Groundhog Day”: The magical Spaniards feel tacked-on, and are little more than agents to drive the plot forward. Pic’s main pleasures are not in the plot — nor in the clumsy special effects and whooshing noises for the time travel — but in the movie’s low-key, sharp observations of young love as Victor lurches emotionally around, wet and drunk, in an entirely believable way.

Perfs are solid, with the energy and verve of Scottish actor Douglas Henshall carrying pic through nearly every scene, even though his occasional habit of going over the top is as demanding on the audience’s patience as it is on the women around him. Ripoll uses the outsider status of dark-eyed Spanish actress Penelope Cruz to capture well the madness of London life during the Notting Hill carnival, and shows a good eye for romantic set pieces — a beautifully lit patch of derelict waste ground, a smoky, red-tinted bar.

Russo’s script shows the strain of combining a busy story with rounded characters, and the dialogue is occasionally over-generalized, with only Henshall and Headey really breaking free of stereotype. Tech credits, by a Spanish-English crew, are excellent.

The Man With Rain in His Shoes

Production

A Handmade Films/Paragon Entertainment Corp. presentation of an Esicma production, in association with CLT-UFA Intl., Mandarin Films, Wild Rose Prods. (International sales: Hand-made, London.) Produced by Juan Gordon. Directed by Maria Ripoll. Screenplay, Rafa Russo.

With

Victor Bukowksi - Douglas Henshall Sylvia Weld - Lena Headey Louise - Penelope Cruz Dave - Mark Strong Don Miguel - Eusebio Lazaro Rafael - Gustavo Salmeron
Camera (color), Javier Salmones; editor, Nacho Ruiz-Capillas; music, Luis Mendo, Bernardo Fuster; production designer, Grant Hicks; sound (Dolby), Goldstein and Steinberg. Reviewed at Madrid Film screening room, Feb. 11, 1998. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 89 MIN. (English dialogue)
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