Aside from maybe those who would pay to see a preshorn Keri Russell, there isn't much in the way of an audience for "Mad About Mambo", a cloyingly artificial romantic comedy set in Northern Ireland that features the "Felicity" star in all her former follicular glory.
Serving as a feature filmmaking bow for screenwriter-director John Forte, the Gramercy Pictures remnant is a lazy retread of "Dirty Dancing", "Strictly Ballroom", "The Full Monty" and just about whatever else could be cribbed to boost theoretical commercial potential.
But the uninspired result comes across more like "Focus Group: The Movie" rather than any sort of greatest-hits package, despite the bonus Dublin-doubling-for-Belfast backdrop.
Actually produced pre-"Felicity", the film initially focuses on 18-year-old Danny Mitchell (William Ash), a student at St. Joseph's, a Catholic boys' school in working-class West Belfast. An avid soccer player who dreams of playing professionally for Belfast United, which recently imported star Brazilian player Carlos Rega (Daniel Caltagirone), Danny decides his style could benefit from a little Latin rhythmic infusion.
When his self-taught approach fails to generate the desired results, Danny enrolls at a dance studio, where he spots Lucy McLaughlin (Russell), a fair but somewhat chilly lass who's preparing for the Regional Latin Dance Finals with her pompous, possessive dance partner/boyfriend, Oliver (Theo Fraser Steele).
Thanks to some particularly lame plotting that conveniently puts Oliver out of the picture for a while, Danny hooks up with privileged, private-school-attending Lucy, and you just know their differences and initial hostilities will eventually melt into something warm and wonderful.
While Russell can certainly look the part, the only thing more tentative than her Irish brogue is her on-screen chemistry with British actor Ash. Their imposed romance feels as choreographed as their fancy dance moves, and even those -- for the most part tellingly shot above the waist -- are suspect.
Busy character actor Brian Cox, on the other hand, does his best Albert Finney as Sidney McLaughlin, Lucy's colorful local entrepreneur dad.
But despite a buoyant soundtrack that works overtime to fill the voids of energy and passion with selections by the likes of Xavier Cugat, Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes and even a Spice Girls cover band, it's not enough to make up for Forte's slapped-together hodgepodge of recycled movie moments.
MAD ABOUT MAMBO
Gramercy Pictures presents
in association with Phoenix Pictures
a First City production
in association with Plurabelle Films
Director-screenwriter: John Forte
Producer: David P. Kelly
Executive producers: Gabriel Byrne,
Director of photography: Ashley Rowe
Production designer: Fiona Daly
Editor: David Martin
Costume designer: Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh
Music: Richard Hartley
Danny Mitchell: William Ash
Lucy McLaughlin: Keri Russell
Sidney McLaughlin: Brian Cox
Oliver Parr: Theo Fraser Steele
Mickey: Paul McLean
Gary: Russell Smith
Spike: Joe Rea
Carlos Rega: Daniel Caltagirone
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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