Caramba — if you haven't already drooled over Penelope Cruz in Spanish films such as All About My Mother or Jam-n Jam-n, which really gives you a gander, this innocuous fluff at least functions as a heads-up. Cruz will soon be a Hollywood fixture — with Matt Damon in All the Pretty Horses, with Johnny Depp in Blow, with Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, with Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky. What's she got? Youth, talent, beauty, sexiness, all on display here in a vacuum.
Directed by Fina Torres from a script by Vera Blasi, the film casts Cruz as Isabella, a Brazilian chef who runs a restaurant in Bahia with her hunk of a troubadour husband, Toninho (Murilo Benício). All is well, even though the motion-sick Isabella demands to be in control - at work, in the car, on the dance floor and in bed. Then Isabella finds Toninho balls-deep in another babe, one who doesn't need to be on top.
Feeling betrayed, Isabella jets off to San Francisco, where she lives with her transvestite friend Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr.), flirts with Cliff (Mark Feuerstein), an American TV producer, and ends up being the star of her own TV cooking show, Passion Food Live, for which Toninho provides musical accompaniment. The Brazilian songs, performed by Paulinho Moska, give the film a romantic lilt it doesn't earn through writing, directing or acting. Torres' film, lacking the hot-peppered sensuality of Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate, serves up a bland helping of chile con corny. Cruz is a dish, but her movie is as soggy and indigestible as Styrofoam.