Foreign directors love recasting America’s land of milk of honey as a locus of sweetly curdled culture, even if they’ve adopted the U.S. as Homeland 2.0. Martin, the lost manchild at the center of writer, director and star Mathieu Demy’s character study, may hold dual citizenship—Dad was French, Mom hailed from Hollywood. But it’s clear from the moment this Parisian real-estate broker steps into LAX that he’s also waltzed through the looking glass. Part of the dislocation can be attributed to the unexpected passing of his estranged mother, the event that’s precipitated Martin’s trip to Venice, California. But as his needy aunt (Geraldine Chaplin, channeling a dozen Altman movies) plays ugly-Angeleno tour guide, you get the sense that Demy is viewing L.A. as a hazy land of kooks and freaks, strikingly similar to the moody SoCal of 1969’s Model Shop—a movie directed by Mathieu’s pops, Jacques Demy.
Only this visit to a bohemia gone to seed turns out to be a brief pit stop; once Martin goes in search of his mom’s closest friend-cum-Tijuana stripper (Salma Hayek), Americano moves South of the Border and, like its Spanglish name, becomes a clumsy gringo approximation of something else. In this case, it’s the old respectable-man-obsessed-with-fallen-angel cliché, which Demy fils tweaks with broad melodramatic strokes and Freudian flotsam, as well as a complete lack of focus or storytelling chops. The wounded characters eventually slouch toward redemption; the movie they’re in, however, isn’t nearly as lucky.
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