A cross between Like Water for Chocolate and Bossa Nova, only without either film's innate charm or respect for genuine romanticism, this sophomore effort by director Fina Torres is aiming to be the film that introduces America to Spain's enticing, nearly irresistible Penelope Cruz by creating a vehicle especially for her talents. Unfortunately, Cruz's natural luminescence is dimmed by the silly storytelling, which blends magical realism and culinary craft clumsily; moreover, for a film that uses chili peppers as an analogy for hot romance, it's surprisingly tepid. The ingratiating Harold Perrineau Jr. provides some much-needed warmth and comic relief (even if the character seems like a drag leftover from the Stone Age), but the convoluted plot just gets more tiring as it progresses, and the movie is ultimately too busy for its own good. This is Cruz's first English-language speaking lead role, but for a real glimpse of her gifts, try checking out Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother or for that matter, any one of her more rewarding Spanish features.
by Jason Clark review