First-time helmers Jaime and Tony Valles have concocted a light-hearted Puerto Rican puberty comedy celebrating the solidarity, cleverness and derring-do of a bunch of marginal, quasi-nerdish high school chums out to aid a smitten comrade. More wide-eyed and innocent in tone than "Ferris Bueller," not to mention the over-the-top style of Bueller's scatological offspring, "Casi Casi" makes up in puppyish enthusiasm what it lacks in sophistication and/or willful crudity.

First-time helmers Jaime and Tony Valles have concocted a light-hearted Puerto Rican puberty comedy celebrating the solidarity, cleverness and derring-do of a bunch of marginal, quasi-nerdish high school chums out to aid a smitten comrade. More wide-eyed and innocent in tone than “Ferris Bueller,” not to mention the over-the-top style of Bueller’s scatological offspring, “Casi Casi” makes up in puppyish enthusiasm what it lacks in sophistication and/or willful crudity. Highly enjoyable hi-jinx never flag, the likeable cast rounded out by a magnificently iconic arch-villainess principal. Skedded to air on HBO Latino in 2007, teen comedy should score well with Hispanic auds.

Shy, callow Emilio (Mario Pabon) wistfully worships the most popular girl in school, and is blind to her petty cruelties. In an all-out effort to win her affection, he decides to impress her by running for Student Council president, discovering belatedly that his opponent is none other than the girl herself.

Once committed to the race, he and his five friends mount a brilliant campaign which seems certain to sweep him to victory. But Emilio is then struck by the quixotic notion that if he tampers with the election results to deliberately lose (no Reese Witherspoon he), this self-sacrifice will make him irresistible to his lady fair.

Soon the loyal gang is embroiled in elaborate commando raids to sabotage the school’s computers, the overall operation requiring foolproof planning, split-second timing and consummate ingenuity.

Complicating the scheme is the fact that the group is constantly under the eagle-eyed scrutiny of principal Raquel Richardson (Marian Pabon), a tall, thin-lipped martinet who makes Cruella de Villa look positively fluffy. The principal and her main snitch are pitted against Emilio and his five co-conspirators, the ever-more-convoluted choreography of their point/counterpoint attempts to outmaneuver one another serving as the pic’s suspenseful action centerpiece.

The hero’s sidekicks are established at the outset in Emilio’s affectionate voice-over narration. There’s the assured, exuberant Angel (Fernando Castro Alvarez), the studious, understatedly pretty Monica (Alexis Arce), the pudgy, computer whiz Alfredo (Ricardo Arias), the fearless, fun-loving Natalia (Marisa Gomez), and the responsible, well-behaved Maria Eugenia, who harbors a crush on Emilio. The characters never appear circumscribed or overdetermined by their well differentiated personalities, convincingly interacting as a unit.

Though the producer/writer/cameraman/editor Valles team can boast a fair amount of experience in theater, they and the bulk of the company are movie novices. The first-time-out nature of the shoot, the young cast and crew and the real-life locations lend a collective spontaneity to the production, particularly evident in the free-flowing interaction among the juve leads, who display enviable communal comic timing.

Tech credits are occasionally ragged, but of a piece with the pic’s breathlessly earnest feel.

Casi Casi

Puerto Rico

Production

A Lirica production. Produced by Jaime and Tony Valles. Executive producer, Victoria Racimo. Directed, written, edited by Jaime and Tony Valles.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Jaime and Tony Valles; music, Peter Mills; music supervisor, Frankie Perez; sound, Alberto J. Levy. Reviewed at New York Latino Film Festival, July 27, 2006. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Mario Pabon, Marian Pabon, Alexis Arce, Ricardo Arias, Fernando Castro-Alvarez, Marisa Gomez, Irene Lucio. (Spanish dialogue)
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