It requires quite a bit of padding and vamping for director Amy French to take a premise better suited for a variety show sketch and stretch it to feature length in “El Superstar: The Unlikely Rise of Juan Frances.” Unfortunately, the effort doesn’t pay off with many laughs in this leisurely paced mockumentary about an Anglo naif who enjoys fleeting success as a Mexican pop idol. Despite its promising pedigree (Norman Lear and George Lopez are listed as executive producers), pic is a harmlessly silly trifle that should fast-forward to homevid after a few pro forma theatrical bookings.
Spencer John French, the helmer’s sibling and co-scripter, gamely plays Juan Frances, an affable plodder who was born Jonathan French in Beverly Hills, but renamed and raised by his Mexican nanny (Lupe Ontiveros) after being orphaned at three months. Much like the title character played by Steve Martin in “The Jerk,” a white doofus raised by black sharecroppers, Juan is, at 33, so thoroughly immersed in his adopted culture that he’s scarcely aware that he’s, ahem, different from members of his extended family.
“El Superstar” attempts to score satirical points with obvious gags that require the husky white guy to toil at low-end jobs — gardener, nanny, short-order cook, etc. — traditionally filled by immigrant laborers. But the pic is more amusing as it charts Juan’s evolution from sincere singer-songwriter of socially conscious ranchero music to bling-festooned reggaeton performer in trendy, titillating musicvideos.
Supporting performances range from cartoonish caricature (Maria Esquivel as Juan’s sexy but klutzy girlfriend, David Franco as his manipulative manager) to good-sport self-parody (Danny Trejo as Juan’s ex-con stepfather). Elisa Bocanegra makes a sweet impression as Chuchi, Juan’s surrogate sister, but the running gag about her romantic crush on Heath Ledger rather too obviously underscores how long this indie comedy — which bears a 2008 copyright — has been on the shelf.
Tech credits are passable.