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Woman On Top

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Woman On Top

Starring: Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benicio
Director: Fina Torres
Rated: R
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jonas Bloch, Mark Feuerstein, Harold Perrineau Jr.

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

"A story of love, motion sickness, and the art of cooking," Fina Torres's WOMAN ON TOP stars the fetchingly gorgeous Penélope Cruz as a sexual Pied Piper named Isabella Oliveira. Cooking food that draws men like flies to honey, Isabella, after she leaves her cheating Brazilian husband, Toninho (Murilo Benício), gets her own television cooking show in San Francisco. Called "Passion Food Live," the show rockets to popularity with its hot-pepper, aphrodisiac cuisine and its sweetly erotic star.

Cruz's performance is easily the best thing about the film and is the only reason one might want to see the picture. Known for her work in foreign language movies such as ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, Cruz is a charming knockout. With one of the most delicious accents that you've ever heard, her lines come out sounding like they've been flavored with milk and honey. With her mixture of childlike innocence and fiery passion, she couldn't have been a more perfect match for what the movie should have been.

Filmed in lush tropical colors and loaded with dynamite food, the movie looks like it should come with a caloric warning label. Surely, watching it must be fattening.

Opening with "Once upon a time in the world of Bossa Nova, a girl was born - Isabella," the film tries to be a romantic, adult fairy tale -- a big budget version of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE crossed with BOSSA NOVA. But Vera Blasi's thin script comes across as more silly than magical. Last year's Sarah Michelle Gellar picture, SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE, covered much of the same ground but with more appeal. Except for the handsome cinematography, WOMAN ON TOP plays like a made-for-TV movie.

The title comes from Isabella's need to be on top during sex, lest she get motion sickness. (This is the cause of the breakup of her marriage since her husband, who says that he has to be on top sometimes, is discovered by Isabella in bed with a less positionally-challenged partner.) The story gets remarkably little mileage out of the idea, concentrating almost entirely on the sensual food angle.

Isabella's assistant on her culinary show is her friend Monica Jones (Harold Perrineau Jr.), who is described as "5-foot-10, great legs, and she's a man." The producer, Cliff Lloyd (Mark Feuerstein), falls head-over-heels in love with Isabella, although his love of the almighty dollar proves to be slightly stronger. Cliff's interest in Isabella is complicated by her husband's showing up on the set, singing sad, soulful Brazilian love songs to her.

WOMAN ON TOP isn't much, but it does get you excited about Cruz's next English language film, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES. Hopefully her next project will be a better showcase for her talent.

WOMAN ON TOP runs 1:33. It is rated R for some strong sexuality and language and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes

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