An intermittently charming but ultimately slight and very deja vu comedy built around the awkward-Englishman-abroad cliche, Christopher Monger’s “That Girl From Rio” fails to exploit the potential of its central idea. Though both Brit comic Hugh Laurie and Spanish star Santiago Segura give it all they’ve got, the plotline never threatens to become interesting and the central romance is fatally implausible. Spanish B.O. has been surprisingly slow, given Segura’s high profile, and theatrical prospects look equally slim offshore.
Laurie plays Raymond, a bank clerk who escapes his drab life by giving dance classes during the evenings and dreaming about the statuesque salsa dancer, Orlinda (ex-model Vanessa Nunes), he has seen in magazines. Early scenes, which are a nice combination of gentle comedy and straight-up melancholy, show Raymond’s unhappy marriage to Cathy (Lia Williams), who’s having an affair with his boss, Strothers (Patrick Barlow). When Cathy and Strothers run off together leaving Raymond in charge of the bank, Raymond steals a load of cash and heads for Rio.
There he encounters slovenly taxi driver Paulo (Segura), who takes him to meet Orlinda. They dance and are soon back at Raymond’s luxury hotel, but when he wakes in the morning Orlinda is gone, along with all his belongings. Pic descends into the humdrum as Raymond pursues his money, getting involved with local Mafia type Bichero (Nelson Xavier) along the way. The Brazilian scenes lack the telling comic details that bring the London ones to life.
Surprisingly, script doesn’t look at the irony of the cold Brit vs. passionate Latino stereotypes, which would have given it more depth. Still, Laurie is fine as the downtrodden Raymond, with the camera happy to exploit his rubbery features and Hugh Grant-like jittery self-consciousness.
Dialogue is generally lively and the Brazilian scenes at least capture the exuberance and chaos of Rio. Music plays some clever cross-cultural games, using both brass bands and salsa.