Rated: R for adult language, drug use, sexual content, and brief nudity.
Genre: Music Biography Drama Romance
Directed By: Leon Ichaso
Running Time: 1:46
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 1/06/07
Special Features:
The Sound and the Heat of El Cantante Feature Commentaries with Director Leon Ichaso and Writers Todd Anthony Bello and David Darmstaedter


Well, I guess it’s mandatory in Hollywood these days that we must have at least one or two sub-par music biopics with huge stars, dramatic re-enactments of important events, and a pretty mediocre end result. I’ve already suffered through “Ray” and “Walk the Line,” and now there’s “El Cantante,” a movie that takes one of the most prolific Latin Salsa superstars of all time, Hector Lavoe, and makes it into a basic vanity project of the combined resources of two dubious stars like Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. “El Cantante” is simultaneously everything that’s wrong with music biography pictures and every reason why there hasn’t been a good one in ages. Many folks complained about the inherent preachy overtones of the film and how it depicted Hector Lavoe as a druggie and pathetic loser whipped by his wife. In the end, I really think the Lavoe fans wanted to see Hector the god. I am firmly in the opinion that Hector Lavoe’s film could have been a wonderful middle ground tour de force that bounced back and forth from his life as a drug user and drunkard right up to his career as a bonafide sensation of Puerto Rican culture and his legendary influence.

Instead all we get is a mere glimpse of Lavoe the performer who is only on stage when the melodrama isn’t in need, and even then his music has no sense of awe or wonder to it, it’s merely intended to move the narrative on to the next act which is proven by the fact that his songs, translated into English on-screen, link to a theme in the movie. Nothing here is ever realized to its full potential and a possibly wonderful film is wasted for what essentially becomes a forum for the two main stars to basically attempt an Oscar grab.  

“El Cantante” is nothing more than a cheesy melodrama that explores the romance and battles between Hector Lavoe and his wife Puchi, who by all accounts was a haggard shrew who dominated Hector. And conveniently enough “El Cantante” is couched enough where both stars can garner enough screen time and monologues where Hector Lavoe and his legacy are but a mere foot note. Everything that’s wonderful, incredible, and absolutely amazing about Hector Lavoe is nowhere to be found, and I’m heartbroken. Marc Anthony instead performs for the movie screaming and brooding as Hector Lavoe posing none of the presence and characteristics of the man, only really showing a glimmer of resemblance during certain shots and he’s reduced to really just singing whenever possible and failing to take the film and make it his own while also focusing on Lavoe. Lopez is given the full control as Puchi who dominates the film narrating and discussing Lavoe’s life, yelling at the camera man at every turn, and really just pushing Anthony into the background as a supporting character while this becomes more of the story of how Puchi met Hector Lavoe and never vice versa.

This allows the duo to play off one another sans the chemistry and every hint of greatness within the film is gone. His feelings of abandonment from his father, his foray into Salsa, his relationship with his son, his affair with Fania, his rise to fame, his impact on the Salsa culture, and so on, it’s all nowhere to be found and only broadly mentioned whenever the script decides that Lopez needs an emotional monologue. One of the better moments that had sheer promise was Lavoe’s confrontation with his father in Puerto Rico which is a horrible and embarrassing misfire that had the ability to become a paramount in the story. As for Lavoe’s songs, all soul is sucked out of them thanks to Anthony’s horrible covers, as well as his inability to sing like Lavoe and mimic his mannerisms. Clearly, not a lot of work went into his pantomimes, and the camera is always sure to zero in on Lopez in the corner. I wish I could have loved “El Cantante” but in the end it’s a blatant vanity project for two Latin stars whose popularity and welcome wore out years ago. I want a great film about Hector Lavoe, and after watching this, I’m still waiting for it.

For you it may be the way to go, but this isn’t the Hector that we know. The man is a legend, and the man is dynamo that’s why “El Cantante” is a weak and limp vanity show. Marc Anthony and J.Lo really have nothing to bring the table, with hammy performances, and a biography of Lavoe that barely touches on his life.



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