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Woman On Top

A beautiful Brazilian chef tries to find the recipe for true love in this spicy, if somewhat hard-to-swallow, comic fantasy.


Sultry culinary genius Isabella (Penélope Cruz) leads an idyllic life running a seaside restaurant in Brazil with her husband Toninho (Murilo Benício) - until she finds Toninho in bed with another woman, that is. Heartbroken, she heads off to San Francisco and immediately finds work as -- what else? -- the host of a TV cooking show. Screwball comedy complications ensue as a prayer to a Brazilian goddess goes awry, Isabella's show becomes a hit and a penitent Toninho arrives to try and win his wife back.


Perma-pouting Spanish dish Cruz ("All About My Mother") is a solid actress with an excess of on-screen charisma, but she isn't particularly well served by her first Hollywood starring vehicle. Hampered by their thick accents, she and hunky Brazilian co-star Benício ("Orfeu") fight their way through hokey exchanges that have no business being in English anyway. (The whole film would have gone down more smoothly in Brazil's romantic tongue, Portuguese.) Of the supporting players, Harold Perrineau ("The Best Man") generates the most sparks, putting a surprisingly fresh spin on one of the more tired modern screen clichés: the strapping black drag queen.


Venezuelan-born helmer Fina Torres ("Celestial Clockwork") adopts the candy-shop approach to commercial storytelling, packing her film with enough sexy stars, bright South American colors and tangy bossa nova tunes to distract viewers from the lame predictability of Vera Blasi's script. Pinching ingredients from the Mexican food-and-sex smash "Like Water For Chocolate," the filmmakers cobble together a passable romantic fantasy in the Latin American magical-realist tradition. Too bad most of the comedy falls flatter than a Brazilian crèpe.

Bottom Line

Cruz may be burn-your-lips hot, but "Woman On Top's" overall effect is mild at best.


Starring Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benecio, Harold Perrineau Jr. and Mark Feuerstein.

Directed by Fina Torres. Produced by Alan Poul. Screenplay by June Roberts and Vera Blasi. Released by Fox Searchlight.