Think of it an old-fashioned love song rearranged to a mariachi beat. “Pulling Strings” is a lightly engaging bilingual trifle that benefits greatly from the charm of lead player Jaime Camil, a Mexican TV and film star who evidences smooth self-assurance at the wheel of what could be his crossover vehicle. Several acres of familiar ground are covered in the storyline about a Mexico City single dad who falls for a U.S. embassy employee while seeking a visa for his young daughter. Even so, this undemanding but pleasant pic should find an appreciative audience in theatrical and homevid release.
Still unstrung after the untimely death of his wife years earlier, struggling mariachi singer Alejandro (Camil) figures his daughter Maria (Renata Ybarra) would be better off with her grandparents north of the border. But when he applies for a visa, he’s officiously brushed off by a by-the-book U.S. embassy worker, Rachel (Laura Ramsey). Within hours of this encounter, however, Alejandro spots Rachel while he performs with his bandmates at a going-away party thrown by Rachel’s co-workers. (She’s two weeks away from a plum assignment in London.) More important, he spots her after the party as well, when she’s too drunk to fend for herself.
Alejandro’s intentions are more or less honorable when he takes Rachel back to his place so she can sleep it off. But when she awakens the next morning, she panics. Not because she’s in a strange man’s apartment, mind you, but because she assumes she has misplaced a laptop — loaded with sensitive data — that her boss (Tom Arnold) entrusted to her. Alejandro jumps at the opportunity to worm his way into Rachel’s good graces by helping her retrieve the “lost” computer, which he stashes behind his couch as soon as he realizes its importance.
It’s only a matter of time, of course, before Alejandro genuinely falls in love with the woman he’s deceiving. And it takes only a little more time for Rachel to discover she’s being deceived. But “Pulling Strings” remains surprisingly appealing even as it hits one predictable plot point after another.
Camil smartly plays Alejandro as more comically desperate than roguishly deceptive as Alejandro takes Rachel on a protracted search for her missing laptop. As a result, viewers have an easier time believing in, and rooting for, the budding romance. It helps that the well-cast Ramsey credibly conveys the slow-but-steady thawing of Rachel’s scrupulous professional reserve as Alejandro introduces her to everything wonderful about Mexico City — everything she has heretofore ignored during her posting there — taking her on a circuitous path through cantinas, restaurants, grade-school pageants, etc. It helps even more that, when it comes to mariachi singing, Camil is a suitably smooth crooner.
Working from a screenplay credited to Oscar Torres, Issa Lopez, Gabriel Ripstein and Georgina Riedel, helmer Pitipol Ybarra keeps things pleasingly animated, even though he allows the pace to flag during an overextended third act. Arnold and Stockard Channing (as Rachel’s overbearing mom) are largely wasted in thinly written roles, but Omar Chaparro gets some big laughs without going too far over the top as Canicas, Alejandro’s best buddy and fellow mariachi. Lenser Alejandro Perez Gavilan enhances the local color while reinforcing the pic’s overarching message that Mexico City is a really swell place to fall in love.