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Tortilla Heaven (2007) starstarno starno starno star Starring: José Zúñiga, George Lopez, Miguel Sandoval, Lupe Ontiveros
Director: Judy Hecht Dumontet
Rating: PG-13
Category: Comedy

It does everything it can to convince you otherwise, but there's actually the kernel of a pretty decent comedy buried in “Tortilla Heaven”; sure, the acting is offensively hammy, the jokes groan-inducingly broad, and the the plot's resolution a foregone conclusion, but watching the film, one gets the impression that when director and screenwriter Judy Hecht Dumontet started out, she actually had something to say. This doesn't excuse her for forgetting, of course, but on the “light rental fare” scale, it elevates “Tortilla Heaven” above, say, “Norbit.”

The plot concerns the impact of a miraculous tortilla (more on that later) on the citizens of tiny Falfarrias, New Mexico, population 73. As the movie opens, we see Isidor (played by Zúñiga), the proprietor of the town restaurant, resisting the loud hectoring of his wife Hermenegilda (Elpidia Carrillo) to get out of bed and go to church. Isidor sleeps in and services begin, only to be interrupted by a pig who barges in and stuffs his snout in the communion water. The pig then makes his way back to Isidor's kitchen, where he gets into the tortilla batter; a couple of special-effects shots later, and ¡Ay, Dios Mío!-- there's a picture of Jesus where a few random burn marks ought to be.

For the next 75 minutes or so, the characters then proceed to do exactly what people do whenever something looking like a holy figure pops up on a building, piece of food, etc. – namely, act like idiots, and watch their town become a tourist attraction. This could have been played for smart laughs, but Dumontet opts instead for the lowest common denominator. The film isn't half an hour old before viewers are treated to lines like “My God, it's a miracle! The tortilla resurrected the pig!” and “Pray, Izzie – pray that the tortilla will cure José.”

It's utter nonsense, in other words, and Dumontet compensates with a lot of quick-cut editing and a dizzying array of appearances by well-known character actors. Barely a scene goes by that won't cause alert movie fans to point at the screen and exclaim “Hey! Isn't that that one guy?” The cast is a veritable Who's Who of anybody who's ever played a Mexican or Native American on a film or television show in the last ten years (Cheech, Chong, and Danny Trejo excepted); Miguel Sandoval plays a smooth-talking con artist, George Lopez plays the chief of police, and Lupe Ontiveros plays essentially the same character she's been playing since her turn as Rosalita the housekeeper in “Goonies”and that's just the tip of the iceberg (or enchilada, as it were).

This is all well and good, and even elicits a few chuckles, but the cumulative effect is numbing. At its climax, the film takes a break from the unfunny gags and stilted dialogue long enough to make a few pointed statements about the price of progress, but it's too little, too late. This corn “Tortilla”is an undercooked mess.

~Jeff Giles

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