Dir: Leon Ichaso. US. 2006. 116mins.

The last time JenniferLopez collaborated with the love of her life the result was the toe-curlingembarrassment of Gigli(2003). Now, she has dared to co-produce and co-star with husband Marc Anthonyin a drama inspired by the life of 1970s salsa superstar Hector Lavoe. El Cantante is no hall of shame turkey - but it's nomasterpiece either. Rather it falls into the trap common to many a biopic inthat the musical sequences have an energy and slickness that is sadly absentfrom the humdrum, repetitive scenes of the artist's domestic strife andself-destructive behaviour.

Despite all the histrionics,melodrama and fortune cookie dialogue ("Love is never perfect when it's reallove", "The more he grew as an artist, the deeper he sank as a person" etc),you can still leave a screening of El Cantante wondering what there was about Lavoe's life and death that seemed special enough to merita full scale biopic.

In its current form asscreened at Toronto,El Cantantemay be pushed to find favour beyond salsa fans, Lavoe devotees and a Latino audience hungry for films thatmake some attempt at reflecting their culture and icons. Commercial returns aremore like to fall towards the Beyond The Sea (2004) end of the musical biopic spectrum ratherthan hit the heights of Ray (2004) orWalk The Line (2005) especially inthe international arena, where Lavoe is a lesserforce and Lopez is generally only a draw in romantic comedy.

That said, US distributor Picturehousehas clearly seen potential in the film, taking US rights in one of the biggestdeals at Torontothis year. Picturehouse president Bob Berney, who has masterminded such releases as My Big FatGreek Wedding and The Passion Of The Christ, has stated hisconfidence that the film has crossover potential and plans an initial 500-700print rollout in July next year. The film is also likely to undergo editsbefore it ventures onto commercial screens.

El Cantante sets a tone of glossy superficiality from the start,beginning in the New Yorkof 2002 where Lavoe's fiery widow Puchi(Lopez) is being interviewed for a documentary on her late husband. Lopez hasbeen mildly aged for what will become the film's framing device. The sequencesare presented in black and white and the actress has plenty of opportunity torun the gamut of stroppy disgruntlement and ruefulremembrance. Profanity flies from her mouth and a smoulderingcigarette is used for dramatic effect but it all feels like an acting classexercise rather than something that would encourage the suspension of theviewer's disbelief.

Fast cutting establishes aslightly hyperactive rhythm to the early scenes as the flashbacks take us tothe early 1960s when humble Puerto Rican Hector Perez (Anthony) arrives in New York determined tobecome a star. Puchi is by his side all the way as hechanges his name to Hector Lavoe, founds a recordlabel and soars to success on a blend of Puerto Rican and American influencesthat is called salsa.

A rather diffident presenceon screen, Marc Anthony comes into his own when performing the kind of vocalsthat melted hearts and sold millions of albums. There are some beautifullycomposed montage sequence that show a real command of film vocabulary as wegain a sense of Lavoe's power as a performer and the extentof his success from sell-out concerts in Madison Square Gardens tochart-topping albums.

The attempt to capture asense of Lavoe's life is less persuasive and the filmseems to become an endless succession of sequences in which the central coupleare either making up or breaking up as Lavoe turns todrugs, his career falters and he can never relinquish the pleasure of casualsexual encounters.

Puchi even drags him from a hotel room full of hookers andhangovers so that he is present at their wedding ceremony, although we nevergain much of an insight into why she remained so loyal to a man so determinedto betray her and lunge towards self-destruction.

There is genuine chemistrybetween Lopez and Anthony who plays Lavoe as a lost little boy who knows thathis charm ensures that his crimes and misdemeanours will always be forgiven. Itis a modest, creditable performance but it is the script that seems unable todelve deeper.

Production companies/backers
R-Caro Productions LLC
Nuyorican Productions

International sales
Voltage Pictures

Julio Caro
Simon Fields
Jennifer Lopez
David Maldonado

David Darmstaedter
Leon Ichaso

Claudio Chea

David Tedeschi

Production design
Sharon Lomofsky

Willie Colon

Main cast
Jennifer Lopez
Marc Anthony
John Oritz
Vincent Laresca
Manny Perez