Film Review: ‘Instructions Not Included’

Instructions Not Included Review

This sporadically amusing but unduly protracted dramedy devolves into a shameless tearjerker in its third act.

Yet another iteration of a sentimental scenario that already was whiskery way back when Charlie Chaplin served as father figure for “The Kid,” “Instructions Not Included” is a sporadically amusing but unduly protracted dramedy that slowly — very slowly — devolves into a shameless tearjerker during its third act. Pic may prove popular with fans of Mexican TV actor/personality Eugenio Derbez, who directed and co-wrote it as a star-vehicle showcase. Even so, it’s questionable whether something so blandly formulaic will do much to expand that fan base.

It doesn’t help much that Derbez is less than entirely convincing in early scenes, playing his character, Valentin, as a roguish ladies’ man who compulsively loves ‘em and leaves ’em while cavorting in his native Acapulco. He’s a great deal more persuasive, here and elsewhere, as a borderline scaredy-cat who has never quite recovered from his father’s tough-love attempts to make him overcome even the most rational fears.

While dozing one morning alongside two scantily clad cuties, Valentin awakens to find an old flame, Julie (Jessica Lindsey), and her infant daughter outside his front door. She asks Valentin for cab fare, then turns over her baby for safekeeping while she rushes back downstairs to pay the driver. She doesn’t come back.

In short order, Valentin discovers that (a) he has been identified by Julie as the baby’s father, (b) she is returning to the U.S. to get on with her life, because she’s ill equipped for motherhood, and (c) he is unable to master such parenting fundamentals as bottle feeding and diaper changing. So he grabs the infant and hitches a ride to L.A., where he hopes to effect a mother-and-child reunion.

But his own paternal instincts take over when, once he spots the baby in danger of drowning in a hotel pool, he swallows his fears and jumps into the water from a window several floor above.

Fortunately, Valentin’s heroics are noted by Frank Ryan (Daniel Raymont), a less-than-reputable producer who hires Valentin as a stuntman — the job our hero continues to hold seven years later as the lengthy exposition ends, and the plot begins in earnest.

There is more than a hint of Jerry Lewis in Derbez’s portrayal of Valentin as an eccentric doting dad who seems scarcely more mature than Maggie (Loreto Peralta), his precocious young offspring. Father and daughter live in a toy-cluttered apartment that looks more like a playhouse than a family residence, and spend many of their off-hours lounging about in matching pajamas.

In many ways, Maggie is the more grown-up of the pair — she’s bilingual, while he never bothers to learn much English — but she’s easily fooled by Valentin’s fanciful tales about the noble causes and fantastical adventures that have kept her mother far away for years and years.

In this sort of story, of course, it’s only a matter of time before the errant mother really does reappear and, more important, begins a legal battle to regain custody of her child. What separates “Instructions Not Included” from predecessors like “Kramer vs. Kramer” is what might best be described as the pic’s sole contemporary touch: When Julie finally does show up — after overcoming what another character cryptically describes as “her addictions” — she is accompanied by a supportive significant other who happens to be a woman, Renee (Alessandra Rosaldo).

To their credit,  Derbez and co-scripters Guillermo Rios and Leticia Lopez Margalli don’t play this plot development for too many cheap laughs. To their discredit, however, they spend rather too much time depicting Julie and (especially) Renee as villains of the piece, mostly to motivate a late plot turnabout that is quite unnecessary and, worse, a weak motivation to add another 15 minutes or so to the running time.

Derbez and Peralta develop a sweetly effective chemistry in their scenes together, and the relationship between their characters is even more affecting after some beans are spilled in the final scenes, and you start to view what might have seemed like odd behavior in an entirely new light. Unfortunately, the supporting players are all too often encouraged to overplay, with decidedly mixed results.

Tech values are mostly passable. In scenes meant to show Valentin at work in Hollywood action fare, however, the budgetary limitations are distractingly obvious.

Film Review: 'Instructions Not Included'

Reviewed online, Houston, Aug. 29, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 115 MIN. Original title: "No seaceptan devoluciones"


(Mexico) A Lionsgate (in U.S.) release and presentation with Pantelion Films of an Alebrije Cine and Video production in association with Fulano, Mengano and Asociados. Produced by Monica Lozano, Eugenio Derbez. Executive producer, Monica Lozano.


Directed by Eugenio Derbez. Screenplay, Guillermo Rios, Leticia Lopez Margalli, Derbez. Camera (color), Martin Boege, Andres Leon Becker; editors, Carlos Bolado, Santiago Perez Rocha; music, Carlo Siliotto; music supervisor, Herminio Gutierrez; production designer, Sandra Cabriada; art director, Jordan Crockett; costume designer, Gilda Navarro; sound, Martin Hernandez, Alejandro Quevedo; associate producers, Francisco Gonzalez Compean, Jose Sierra, Eduardo Cisneros Alexander Dahm, Eamon O’Farrill; assistant director, Stephanie Correa; casting, Sandra Leon Becker.


Eugenio Derbez, Jessica Lindsey, Loreto Peralta, Daniel Raymont, Alessandra Rosaldo, Hugo Stiglitz, Arcelia Ramirez. (Spanish, English dialogue)

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  1. R Carcamo says:

    Movie was great, you need to know a little bit of hispanic culture to understand or criticizing this film. First movie in years that i will watch twice.
    It really touch heart and make you laugh at the same time. I loved, go to the cinema and enjoy a great movie.

  2. Joss Rodrick says:

    I have never seen a heart-touching and hilarious type of movie like this before, it combines those two totally different sorts very well.
    This is a deserving Golden Globe and Oscar movie, and I am not overpraising it!
    I would’ve never expected such a great screenplay, amazing performance by Loreto Peralta, which is her first acting role, at 7 years of age her performance is just stunning. Eugenio Derbez delivers excellence as an actor and director, in this movie we can see a mature and a more serious side of him. And last but not least there are also very good supporting performances by actresses Jessica Lyndsey and Alessandra Rosaldo.
    This is overall an excellent movie that utterly exceeds expectations.
    There are Spanish jokes and some dialogues that only a native Spanish-speaking audience would understand or those who understand Spanish very well, as a consequence those moments of the film make non-Spanish speakers feel lost for a moment since it just doesn’t make sense for them.

    “Riveting, Hilarious, Unexpected and Heartbreaking ”
    one of the best films of the year!

  3. cordero says:

    I agree NOT A GOOD REVIEW. JOE LEYDON you don’t understand Hispanic culture jokes. this was a great movie witch only our Latino culture would understand. and the movie is a combination of drama and comedy a 10+ MOVIE!!!!

  4. Lennis says:

    When did you decide to become a movie reviewer? Did you just woke up on a very bad day and said, mmmm I am going to write shit about this movie an say that I am an expert on films. BS.. all tha’s all you write.

  5. Carlos Reyes says:

    I don’t care what you reviewers say about this movie. One of the best movies I have seen, that is to say that all who saw it when I was there loved it, stood up and clapped. (300 people)

  6. Sergio Lopez says:

    Good movie, Derbez might not be the next Al Pacino but the movie is entertaining, makes you laugh and cry, has a good message and good jokes (for the spanish speakers mostly). I hope this movie gets better reviews as well as support not only from hispanics but movie lovers.

  7. R Gutierrez says:

    I highly dislike your criticism of the final third act. You dislike simply because the antagonists are Caucasian. I found the third act very realistic, and honestly any white woman would’ve done that. Had the mother ended up with Maggie, you’d probably have given the movie 5/5. I also believe that since you are white, you simply would not understand many of the symbols and motifs that we Hispanics are raised to, and therefore see them as negative. However, I respect and honor your review, as inaccurate as it is.

    • from latin america says:

      Hispanic is not a race and if you come to Latin America you understand that.Y si hablaras español entenderias que hispano es persona que habla español.JUST BECAUSE IT IS WRONGLY USE IN ENGLISH DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO DO IT. By the way the blond,blue eye girl is Mexican.True Mexican not those so called Chicanos.By the way one of the Caucasian woman is also latina.It was a good movie.

  8. Y Tipantasi says:

    This was an awesome movie!!! Excellent work Mr. Derbez!!!! Keep them coming!!! All the actors where great!!!

  9. Danielle Melendez says:

    Joe doesn’t know what the hell hes talking about this was a great movie! Derbez had me crying, laughing and it was simply a wonderful film. A definite 10!

  10. denise says:

    Beautiful movie, unexpected movie would go see it again!

  11. Raphael R. says:

    I went with my family today in the morning and I really enjoyed the movie. I was surprised to see a lot of people in a morning Sunday.. It is a beautiful story full of funny moments. I really recommend this movie.

    The only problem I noticed was the English translation which was poor and for American audience this makes the movie boring and confusing, leaving them asking questions more than feeling the connection of this beautiful story..

  12. Haleigh says:

    I loved the movie,great actors,great message though..we need more films like this one,.I don’t speak Spanish but subtitles worked just really touched my feelings!

  13. Aleyda Mendizabal says:

    I love this movie. I love the fact that I laugh, cried and most of all enjoy it with my mom that its not fluent in English. My respect Eugenio Derbez and the others Actors.

  14. John says:

    Joe’s point of view are well taken and from a technical point of view he has some good points but let’s also keep in mind there is a huge contrast on how Hispanic and Anglos see and interpret different situations and interactions. Personally I think the movie is AWESOME, the plot and the way it was acted was geared specifically to a Hispanic audience. Despite a limited budget, the lack of high caliber actors and consultants and a limited release in the US, the movie did extremely well and will continue to make waves as it is expanded to additional theaters.

  15. Claudia Gonzalez says:

    Primero que todo quisiera decir que el Sr Joe Leydon dio su opinion repito su opinion solo de el. A mi me parecio una de las mejores actuaciones del Sr Eugenio Derbez y toda su produccion los personajes fueron genial la mejor pelicula para mi en mucho tiempo. Tienen y deben ir a verla no solo para apoyar a nuestro talento mexicano pero porque la pelicula vale la pena.

  16. San antonian says:

    Es una pelicula muy bien hecha y muy esperada . Fuimos a la primera funcion el viernes en la mañana ya habia gente, derbez es un talentaso para hacer su trabajo , muy orgullosa de el trabajo mexicano . Este escritor como muchos americanos en este pais. Piensan q los latinos no somos competitivos , q no podriamos compararnos con ellos en trabajo , inteligencia y desempeño . A derbez le dejaron abrir en un poco mas de 300 salas . En el pais . La sala ala q fui era pequeña , nadie pensaba q triunfaria . Este fin de semana quedo n el 5to lugar arribar de la pelicul de mortal instruments , y el estreno de “get away” . La pelicula de derbez se perfila para 8 millones de dolares este fin de semana. Y eso q fueron solo 300 salas !
    O aprenden a tomarnos en cuenta y los seguimos dejando abajo !

  17. angie says:

    The best movie of 2013. Its what its.!!

  18. karla says:

    A very recommended movie to see. Great job Derbez. I loved the comedy in it and the twist to it too.

  19. Evelyn Escamilla says:

    Joe Ledon- so are his critiques based on his experience as director, screen writer, spectator, or neither? About 90% of his language argues on the fact that he feeds on negative energy! lol Eugenio Dervez, on the other hand, as the Creative & Superlatively Talented Comedian that he is, would applaud Oscar Wilde for his famous words, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

  20. Lety says:

    Feliz de ver el éxito de un mexicano, q lo critican para opacar su trabajo y nosotros “el publico” salimos aplaudiendo!!!

  21. Cosima says:

    This is the more terrible film review I’ve ever read. It’s not even that you critiqued the movie negatively, it’s that you suck as a writer. I hope you are proud of your degree from Phoenix University.

  22. Maggie says:

    I strongly recommend this wonderful movie. Thank you Eugenio Derbez for making us proud. The whole family enjoyed it, I’m so happy to see you succeed and continue to make more movies like this one, we need great actors like you that represent Mexico in a good way.

  23. Muchas Felicidades Eugenio Derbez. la pelicula estubo 100% Buena. Al publico le gusto y las sales del cine estuvieron llenas… el gusto es para el publico no para los criticos. recuerda ellos les pagan para comentar. El publico no. Nosotros quedamos encantados con tu pelicula.
    La actuacion de la pequena fue espetacular.

  24. I saw this movie and I enjoy it from the beginning to end. I strongly recommend this movie. I’m definitely going to watch it again. :)

  25. Gabriela Orellana says:

    The movie was great! 10/10. The critic above clearly doesnt know what he’s talking about. Obviously he never had the chance to direct and act in a movie. This critic obviously never made it, so now he watches movies and feels like he can critic them. You’re a failed and resenment-filled person. Since you never made it then you think you can try to put others down. Too bad you can’t because Derbez knows his movie was great. Have a nice day and stop being such a douchehole.

  26. LUCY DUARTE says:

    Hoy fui a ver La Película y me gustó mucho. Mucha gente no pudo entrar porque había demasiado gente que se necesitan dos salas de cine. Muchas Felicidades Eugenio Derbez!! :)

  27. Esteban says:

    Variety do yourself and fire this critic who doesn’t even deserve the title of critic. This movie was amazing we need more of these movies and less of those stupid one direction movies.

    • Gaby says:

      I agree this was a great movie and we need more like these but why the hell you got put One Direction into this. One Direction movie was great and thats why its #1. Haters these days^

  28. al says:

    i saw the movie and it was great . i know which movies are great to see or movies that will stink . joe leydon needs to learn a little more

  29. David says:

    Really Variety? This critic needs to find a job he’s good at…

    Best movie I’ve seen this year!

  30. oscar says:

    The world could use a lot more of these films that invite parents to love their children more and less Critics who to me, are soldiers who never went to war!

  31. daniel casares says:

    We saw it and liked it … A lot! The child”s acting, for being her first time movie, is outstanding!!

    • eduardio says:

      hoy fui a ver la pelicula en fresno…fue grandioza…nunca habia visto que la gente aplaudiera al finalizar una pelicula…pero siempre hay una primera vez…muchisima gente se quedo afuera…pido perdon por los que fueron y no tenia subtitulos la pelicula…pero fue increible y el senor critic necesita buscarse otro trabajo…pues esta es un peliculoooooooooooonnnnnnn…..thank you…necesitamos mas de estas …..

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