Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sex, Love & Salsa: What’s It All About, Julian?

Evidently, Julian Suarez is a Salsa dancer who never saw Michael Caine in Alfie.  If he had, he might have been forewarned players like himself always realize just a little too late when it is time to settle down.  At least he has respectable taste in music from what we can tell from Adrian Manzano’s Sex, Love & Salsa (a.k.a. BQE, trailer here), which opens tonight in Brooklyn.

Suarez thinks he is so good at putting on the moves he actually gives classes to other aspiring pick-up artists.  He also fancies himself a future reality TV-documentary franchise, so he and his cronies compulsively film their Casanova antics.  He will have his work cut out for him trying to thaw Maria, a professionally trained Salsa dancer who recognizes a player when she sees one.  On the other side of the spectrum, he is a little too successful seducing the very young and very inexperienced Genny (practically from the block). Ingrid, his somewhat older friend-with-benefits might be a better fit, but all her talk about suddenly wanting a baby has him kind of spooked.

As a director, Manzano relies too heavily on hand-held cameras and as-seen-through-the-omnipresent-video-camera perspectives.  However, he stages a very stylish formal dance number down the stretch. As a screenwriter, he created one intriguing female character in Ingrid, and gives Maria a few interesting moments, but poor Genny badly illustrates the principle of diminishing returns.  As his lead actor, I’ll leave it the women of New York to judge how convincing Manzano is as an irresistible lades man.  Anyone, anyone?  Bueller, Bueller?

Regardless, Manzano gives viewers a nice slice of New York nightlife, showcasing a number of talented Salsa bands and dancers.  Shot on location in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens (wherever that is), SLS has a vivid sense of place, often feeling like a tour of neighborhood Salsa clubs, which is cool.  Maleche Stewart’s black-and-white-with-flashes-of-color cinematography is also quite visually appealing.  It sounds kind of harsh, but SLS would probably be a better movie if there was less story and more dancing.

Still, Susan Quinn gives a rich, multifaceted performance as the tough but vulnerable Ingrid.  Likewise, Gabrielle Ruiz lends the film a genuinely seductive screen presence and some nice Salsa chops as the less than impressed Maria.  Marisol Carrere and Jorge Hoyos also do some nice work as Suarez’s mother and father, rescuing an overwritten family breakfast scene.  The rest of the ensemble is a little spotty.

Manzano earns credit for not indulging in cheap pay-offs, but viewers will still have a pretty good idea where it is all heading.  There are a lot of talented musicians gigging in New York Salsa bands, including moonlighting jazz players, so if SLS is good for business than that’s great.  Unfortunately, the awkward drama does not always well serve the hot Salsa vibe.  Mostly for diehard Salsa fans and chauvinistic Brooklynites, Sex, Love & Salsa opens tonight (11/14) at indieScreen in the County of Kings, with Salsa dancing to follow each nightly screening.