* (out of four)
A big star in Mexico, “Instructions Not Included” star/director/co-writer Eugenio Derbez may best be known by American audiences as Felipe/Felipe’s grandma in Adam Sandler’s horrible comedy “Jack and Jill.” Quite the reference point.
For his directorial debut, Derbez takes a page from Sandler, playing a much-younger ladies’ man despite any obvious explanation of his appeal. He also pretends to tell a story about family when really the whole movie is about him. The 50-year-old actor plays Valentin, a stud in his mid-30s who discovers that one of his many flings has yielded a child. About five minutes later, the mother (Jessica Lindsey of “Now You See Me”) takes off. After lamenting cheap condoms and shouting, “I want an abortion!” Valentin sneaks baby Maggie (later played as a 7-year-old by Loreto Peralta) into America, believing it will allow her to avoid the disadvantages of her native Acapulco and, most importantly, grow up tall and blonde in L.A. Great priorities, dad.
“Instructions Not Included” sounds like a film about a man learning the challenges of child rearing, but this slapstick-favoring comedy joins a long list of movies about little kids (including the recent “Despicable Me 2”) that depict young children as perky and easy. (The film’s Spanish-language title, “Hombre de Piedra” or “Man of Stone,” a reference to Valentine’s determination and work as a stuntman, fits better.) This is a story about Valentin’s goofy shenanigans, from numerous jokes about his landlord forgetting that Valentin already paid the elevator maintenance fee to a neighbor who rambles about how good Valentin is at, you know, plumbing. Wink wink. It allows Derbez to deliver a comedy that alternately (and creepily) plays toward young children and horny adults.
Derbez clearly wants to craft a heartwarming saga of adults sacrificing for the interests of children—a judge orders Valentin to learn English, which I didn’t know was legal. But he also cheaply incorporates addiction, sexual identity and terminal illness without appropriately acknowledging any of them. I guess that would distract from the hilarious gags about Quidditch and head injuries.
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