Three women doggedly pursue the same man in "Chasing Papi," a Latin-flavored comic romp poised to mine the mostly untapped but potentially lucrative Latin crossover market. English-lingo pic should fare well, especially among women in urban areas -- and even better in ancillary markets.

Three women doggedly pursue the same man in “Chasing Papi,” a Latin-flavored comic romp poised to mine the mostly untapped but potentially lucrative Latin crossover market. Its multi-ethnic commercial viability enhanced through the casting of up-and-coming starlets, an infusion of Latin pop cultural references and a soundtrack jammed with popular Hispanic recording artists, English-lingo pic should fare well, especially among women in urban areas — and even better in ancillary markets.

Given the success with which the Latin Grammys have exploited the surge in the ethnicity’s crossover appeal, it was inevitable Hollywood would target the rapidly expanding demographic. Enter producer Forest Whitaker, who shepherded the project with an eye toward wooing both its core demo and other audience segments. Even its hybrid title smacks of savvy cross-cultural marketing: “Papi,” which translates roughly as “My Main Man” has been widely adopted as a cool Spanglish term in hipster circles.

Papi is the muy guapo Tomas Fuentes (Mexican soap star Eduardo Verastegui, who recalls a younger Antonio Banderas). An adman based in Los Angeles, Tomas has a woman in every port: sexy dancer Cici (Colombian-born TV star Sofia Vergara) in Miami, lovely but bookish attorney Lorena (“Rush Hour II’s” Roselyn Sanchez) in Chicago, and spoiled heiress Patricia (recording artist Jaci Velasquez) in New York.

Returning to L.A., Tomas confides to his secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) that the stress of dating three women is overwhelming, and he collapses at work. A trip to the doctor (Ian Gomez) yields a prescription for tranquilizers and abstinence.

Meanwhile, in the kind of uncanny coincidence that happens only in madcap comedies, the three women impulsively decide to pay Tomas a visit. Arriving at his house within minutes of each other, the three emerge, from closet, bathroom and hallway wearing lingerie he’s given them. Cute, if predictable, three-way split screen sequence promptly erupts in a catfight. Waiting for him to come home, they confront him one by one. As his love life careens out of control in a cartoonishly silly bit, Tomas swills scotch with tranquilizers and soon lands unconscious on the floor.

At the same time, an undercover FBI agent (Lisa Vidal) has trailed Cici’s car, apparently stolen and concealing thousands of dollars, to Tomas’ house. Aware they are being pursued — they assume their follower is yet another jealous girlfriend — the unlikely trio grab the drugged Tomas and lead the cop on a high-speed chase. When Patricia learns her parents have canceled her credit card, the cash-poor women must scheme to stay ahead of the law. Pic blends comic highjinks with crime caper elements: Lorena is a brief but smashing success as Miss Puerto Rico (to help the women take advantage of a complimentary suite at an upscale hotel until the real beauty queen arrives), the girls have a run-in with the thugs (Freddy Rodriguez, D.L. Hughley) expecting their stolen loot, and the still-unconscious Tomas is kidnapped by the FBI agent. Through it all the women discover that a loyal friend is worth a lot more than a cheating Papi.

“Chasing Papi’s” relatively predictable twists of fate and deus ex machina contrivances don’t hold up under scrutiny, so it’s better to accept them as part of the film’s zany comic universe and not ask questions. For the most part, the fast-moving pace, thankfully slight running time, attractive leads and infectious soundtrack distract from its many inconsistencies.

Technical credits, almost across the board, are executed by a Latino crew, topped by tyro helmer Linda Mendoza (“The Bernie Mac Show”). Kudos are due especially to production designer Candi Guterres, for mounting a bubblegum-hued world that sets just the right comic tone; costumer Salvador Perez, whose outfits, whether tailored suits or trashy spandex, aptly reflect character; and Emilio Estefan Jr. (the hugely successful impresario behind the Miami Sound Machine) whose light-footed score gives the action a pacy feel.

Chasing Papi

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox 2000 presentation of a Spirit Dance Entertainment production. Produced by Forest Whitaker, Tracey Trench, Laura Angelica Simon. Executive producer, Tajamika Paxton. Co-producers Elaine Dysinger, Nellie Nugiel. Directed by Linda Mendoza. Screenplay, Laura Angeica Simon, Steven Antin, Alison Balian, Elizabeth Sarnoff, from a story by Simon, Antin.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Xavier Perez Grobet; editor, Maysie Hoy; music, Emilio EstefanJr.; music supervisor, Frankie Pine; production designer, Candi Guterres; art director, Anthony Rivera Stabley; set decorator, Bryan John Venegas; costume designer, Salvador Perez; sound (Dolby/DTS), Felipe Borrero; assistant director, Julian Petrillo; casting, Chemin Sylvia Bernard. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, L.A., April 14, 2003. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Lorena - Roselyn Sanchez Cici - Sofia Vergara Patricia - Jaci Velasquez Papi/Tomas - Eduardo Verastegui Carmen - Lisa Vidal Victor - Freddy Rodriguez Rodrigo - D.L. Hughley Mary - Maria Conchita Alonso Walter Mercado - Himself Doctor Chu - Ian Gomez
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