Great cast chemistry, sharp dialogue, and a free-for-all pile-on of ethnic stereotypes make this a comedy of multicultural errors. A rare look at middle-aged love and cross-border shopping, as well as an effective vehicle for Asian superstar Sylvia Chang, still relatively unknown Stateside, and for the underused Esai Morales, “American Fusion” could get served up at better urban venues, given the right marketing sizzle.
Title refers not to restaurant fare — although there’s plenty of that on view, given that it’s one of the family bizzes here — but to an operation endured by hilariously poison-tongued Grandma (scene stealer Lan Yeung, who scripted 1994 Chinese pic “Ermo”) after a run-in with a mall massage machine.
Grandma has an unusually close, borderline abusive relationship with her eldest daughter, the Taiwan-born Yvonne (Chang), who is pushing 50 with little to show for it except a dull job at a community ad rag and a twentysomething son (co-scripter Randall Park) who’s convinced he’s actually black.
All of Yvonne’s siblings are occupied with their various dysfunctional marriages, with only-brother Tony (“Matrix” vet Collin Chou) a powder keg who threatens to explode the immigrant family while struggling to hold it together. He’s not terribly inclined to encourage Yvonne to go out, even casually, with Jose (Morales), the suave and easygoing dentist she met on an interview for the paper.
Despite her cautious, browbeaten temperament, however, she begins to see the handsome, gray-haired fellow, and romance blossoms quietly, but with enough force to cause a small crisis for everyone involved, including Jose’s open-hearted Mexican family.
Helmer, co-scripter Frank Lin scores points by letting lots of peripheral things play out in entertaining ways. Slapstick scenes uncork enough genial chaos to keep them, and the cast, from looking simply silly.
Mostly shot in the Pasadena area, pic makes good use of suburban locations, and funky musical score helps brighten the mood. Chang convincingly clicks with Morales right from their first scene together. And yes, that’s the real Fabio in the fantasy sequence that gets things rolling off the top.