Brimming with fanciful ideas about life, romance and the rejuvenating power of music, "Sueno" sings a lovely tune but chokes on its own banal lyrics. Facile rags-to-riches tale doubles as a bracingly eclectic Latin music sampler, though fans will probably be sufficiently contented with their Ozomatli CDs to skip the feature.

Brimming with fanciful ideas about life, romance and the rejuvenating power of music, “Sueno” sings a lovely tune but chokes on its own banal lyrics. Facile rags-to-riches tale doubles as a bracingly eclectic Latin music sampler, though fans will probably be sufficiently contented with their Ozomatli CDs to skip the feature.

John Leguizamo stars as Antonio, a Mexican-born singer-guitarist who moves to Los Angeles shortly after his mother’s death. Predictable hardships — the loss of his job at his uncle’s taco restaurant, the indignity of frozen dinners — are offset by Antonio’s infectious goodwill and passionate love of his art.

Naturally, two shy women in the neighborhood soon come under the new guy’s spell. First is Nina (Ana Claudia Talancon), a beautiful pre-med student who initially resists Antonio’s advances out of devotion to her ailing father.

The other, Mirabela (Elizabeth Pena), is a recently divorced mom who, once she lets down her guard, turns out to have an unexpectedly fine singing voice — making her the perfect addition to Antonio’s new group, which is gunning for the $10,000 grand prize in a radio-sponsored battle of the bands.

Story doesn’t get any less predictable as Antonio gets ditched early on by his initial set of bandmates, then considers dumping his manager (Nestor Serrano, in an engagingly low-key perf) and old-school bolero roots to pursue a solo English-language career. Faster than you can say “sellout,” however, pic swoops in and solves these routine conflicts with similarly routine solutions.

Helmer Renee Chabria (who also scripted) gets the best performance out of Pena, who makes Mirabela’s emergence from her emotional cocoon — complicated by hang-ups about her age and weight — a delight to watch.

Leguizamo is on less certain footing, not because he’s too old for the part (though he is) but because there’s something depressingly retrograde about the sight of this dynamic, well-established character actor trudging his way through the role of an amateur. Results admittedly would be more interesting if Antonio were not so blandly written — if he provided even a small outlet for Leguizamo’s edgier side.

Chabria occasionally takes stabs at more adventurous territory with surreal musical sequences that unfold, “Dancer in the Dark”-style, in Antonio’s head, but these garish flourishes — one of which finds Pena belly-dancing in a Bollywood-style number — do little but accentuate the dullness surrounding them.

Slightly overstuffed soundtrack showcases more than 20 different acts from a wide range of genres including Latin electronica and rap. In pic’s musical highlight, pop star Jose Jose takes the stage with Antonio and his bandmates, who all look thoroughly intimidated.

Sueno

Production

A Destination Films release in association with El Camino Pictures of a Lamb/Elliptical production. Produced by Marc Forster, Eric Kopeloff, Robert Ortiz. Executive producers, Bob Yari, Shawn Glick, Katrina Sirdofsky. Co-producers, Juan de Dios Balbi, Osvaldo Benavides, Gusmano Ceaseretti, Lynn Fainchtein, Juan Carlos Paz y Puente, Jorge Mondragon. Directed, written by Renee Chabria.

Crew

Camera (color), Eric Moynier; editor, Lori Ball; music, Joselo Rangel, Meme del Real, Jumbo; music supervisor, Howard Paar; production designer, Stefania Cella; set decorator, Julieann Getman; costume designer, Caroline Eselin; sound, Coleman Metts; choreographer, Maria Tores; associate producers, Anne McCarthy, Jay Scully, Henry Boger; assistant director, Rafael Orozco; casting, McCarthy, Scully. Reviewed on VHS, Los Angeles, Sept. 27, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Antonio - John Leguizamo Nina - Ana Claudia Talancon Mirabela - Elizabeth Pena
With: Nestor Serrano, Jose Maria Yazpik, Terri Hoyos, Jose Jose, Jsu Garcia, Rafael Simon, Rick Simon, Kal Penn, Bernard White, Mel Gorham, Erica Munoz, Michael Pena.
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