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The Player: Paolo Montalban flashes a lady-killer smile in 'American Adobo.'

As the Lumpia Burns

'American Adobo' is filled with empty calories

By Todd Inoue

AFTER ENDURING stereotypical roles--often requiring the ability to morph into different racial personas--American Adobo gives Filipino and Filipino-American actors a chance to play themselves in a commercial movie that is big-budgeted, glamorous and human. That's the good news. The bad news is American Adobo contains enough tortured melodrama to fill a season of As the Lumpia Burns. It's been a good two years for Filipino-American cinema. The family film The Debut and the gritty indie The Flip Side were the opening and closing night films of the 2001 San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. American Adobo is like the well-off primo to its streetwise relatives.

The film cooks with core ingredients that are readily available--using liberal scoops of Eat Drink Man Woman and Friends and a dash of The Big Chill. Adobo opens with close-ups of hands creating the classic Filipino dish ("This is food porn" whispered fellow scribe and Jollibee's regular Jim Aquino). The hands belong to Tere Sanchez (Cherry Pie Picache), a wilting flower who thinks she'll never find Mr. Right. She hangs out in Queens with a bunch of successful friends who make foolish choices. Mike (popular Philippine actor Christopher De Leon) is the editor of a radical newspaper and an absentee father. Hot chick Marissa (Dina Bonnevie) keeps going back to the same cheating guy. Raul (Paolo Montalban) is a player who can't keep his dick in his pants. Ricky Davao plays Gerry, a closeted gay man reluctant to come out to his friends and highly religious mom. Together, they try to support and console each other during a week of mad drama.

This is Hollywood, so the actors have all walked out of Banana Republic catalogs. The décor is hyperstylized. Everything matches--from table settings to window treatments to chafing dishes to apartment furniture. There's not a huge wooden fork, a bottle of banana ketchup or naked-guy-in-a-barrel to be seen. This immediately raises the red flag of suspicion in the authenticity department.

But the producers are experts in creating fantasy worlds. American Adobo is presented by ABS-CBN, the Philippines' leading television and movie production company. Predictably, the movie is a successful eyeball roller. A New Year's Eve toast is followed by "spontaneous" dancing to a Gloria Gaynor classic. Marissa's feeble interpretive dancing to an acoustic song strummed by her philandering lover had me cowering. Two glass-throwing tantrums further explore the limits of overacting. There are kookier antics than in a Brady Bunch marathon. And of course, by the end of the movie, all the loose ends are tied up and arranged in a pretty vase.

American Adobo is a good movie for the moms and dads who watch soap operas and would be excited to see an ensemble cast of Pinoy actors on the big screen. Maybe in a couple years, American Adobo will be remembered as that big-budget film about the Filipino-American experience. For now, it's a load of empty calories. Eat up, because it will disappear quickly from theaters.

American Adobo (R), directed by Laurice Guillen, written by Vincent R. Nebrida and starring Paolo Montalban, Dina Bonnevie, Cherry Pie Picache, Ricky Davao and Christopher De Leon, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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