×

Film Review: ‘Instructions Not Included’

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

With:

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

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.

Popular on Variety

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"

Production:

(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.

Crew:

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.

With:

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

More Film

  • Spirited Away

    Netflix to Carry Iconic Studio Ghibli Animated Films

    The iconic animated features of Japan’s Studio Ghibli will be available on Netflix from February. The move is a further change of position for the studio which has repeatedly resisted the idea that its beloved cartoons would be released on digital platforms. Netflix, sales agent Wild Bunch, and Studio Ghibli, which counts Hayao Miyazaki as [...]

  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in

    SAG Awards 2020: 'Parasite' Makes History; 'The Crown,' 'Mrs. Maisel' Earn Top TV Honors

    Neon’s “Parasite” won best motion picture cast at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, becoming the first foreign language film to pick up the top prize. Netflix’s “The Crown” was named best TV drama and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” earned the prize for best TV comedy in a strong showing for streaming [...]

  • Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Lee Jeong-eun,

    SAG Awards 2020: The Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    The Screen Actors Guild Awards are always the first peer group ceremony of the new year, giving those who make films and television series the chance to celebrate each other. Going into the 26th annual ceremony, which took place Jan. 19, the nominees were a mix of industry veterans and beloved favorite and some newer-comers, [...]

  • HAF logo

    Hong Kong Project Market HAF Lines up Cream of Asia for 2020 Edition

    Lin Cheng-sheng (“Betlnut Beauty”), Giddens Ko (“You Are The Apple of My Eye”), Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff”) and Yeo Siew-hua (“A Land Imagined”) are among the big name Asian directors lining up to participate in the 18th edition of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The powerhouse project market will run for [...]

  • Jennifer Aniston

    SAG Awards: The Complete Winners List

    Korean thriller “Parasite” made history at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, becoming the first foreign-language film to win best motion picture cast. In another streaming stride, Netflix’s “The Crown” nabbed best TV drama and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” took home best TV comedy. In a repeat of the Golden Globes, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content