Set in Mexico City and boasting a bilingual soundtrack in both English and Spanish, “Pulling Strings” is obviously aimed at the burgeoning Latino market (though with crossover potential). But it’s every bit as bad as most Hollywood romantic comedies.
The script is based on one of those idiotic premises that assume that the viewers are as clueless as the characters. Rachel (Laura Ramsey) is an uptight, by-the-book clerk working at the American Embassy, scrutinizing visa applications. She turns down Alejandro (Jaime Camil), a widower who wants to take his adorable young daughter Maria (Renata Ybarra) to her grandparents in the States, because he’s a mariachi singer with no visible assets. He’s annoyed at the cavalier gringo brush-off, but is too nice a guy to complain.
Meanwhile Rachel is about to be promoted to London, but her boss (Tom Arnold) asks her to do him a favor before she leaves: pick up his laptop from the repair shop and keep it safe until he returns from a trip. So she’s carrying it along with her when a co-worker spirits her to a surprise bon voyage party, where Alejandro and his band—including his comical buddy Canicas (Omar Chaparro)—just happen to be the featured entertainment. During the course of the evening Rachel gets smashed. And though Alejandro is enough of a gentleman to see to her safety—by taking her to his place so she can sleep it off—he decides to appropriate the computer to teach her a lesson.
His plan—if you can believe this—is to pretend to help her retrieve the laptop from crooks who have supposedly purloined it, earning her gratitude (and, presumably, approval for his visa) in the process. It’s a dumb idea, in which he enlists a whole battery of friends to make it appear convincing, but it’s derailed anyway when the computer is apparently stolen by a couple of comic loan sharks to whom he owes money. To help him collect funds to pay off his debt (though still not knowing her computer is involved), Rachel actually assists him and his group in getting a nighttime of lucrative gigs. That’s only one sign that she’s falling for him—and for the adorable Maria, of course. It’s inevitable, though, that Rachel finds out about Alejandro’s deception, which threatens to derail their romance—but not for long. The last act follows the romcom playbook to the last drop.
“Pulling Strings” has some good things, especially Camil, a handsome guy with some real charisma and musical talent. (The mariachi interludes are pleasant, even if the music isn’t particularly distinguished and the habit of having a full, invisible orchestra come in after a few bars with Alejandro’s little band is risible.) But otherwise things are utterly mediocre. Ramsey is pretty but stiff, and Chaparro is one of those overripe second bananas who quickly becomes exhausting. Arnold smiles vacantly through his scenes, looking totally at sea, and Stockard Channing turns up to do her hard-bitten routine as Rachel’s manipulative mother, who wants her daughter to return to Michigan, though it’s not entirely clear why.
Technically the movie is adequate, with cinematography by Alejandro Perez Gavilan that bathes Mexico City in a loving glow. But Pedro Pablo Ibarra’s direction is unfocused, and the editing by Camilio Abadia is without rhythm or punch.
Of course, it’s hard to believe that anybody could have whipped this silly script into acceptable shape.