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Review: Cultures collide in ‘My Uncle Rafael’

“My Uncle Rafael” elicits plenty of goofy chuckles even as it regularly threatens to fly off the rails. The film, directed by Marc Fusco from a script by Scott Yagemann and star Vahik Pirhamzei (based on a character from Pirhamzei’s stage plays), feels a bit made up as it goes along but, like the best send-ups, also never feels so far from the actual truth.

There’s a nutty fidelity to the movie’s title character, an alternately astute and dense 71-year-old Armenian immigrant, even if his ethnicity is more fodder for a gaggle of broad cultural references and ESL-tinged malaprops (“It’s my way or the freeway!”) than a true plot advancer.

Still, it’s fun to watch as an ambitious TV producer (Rachel Blanchard) convinces Rafael (Pirhamzei) — with urging from his opportunistic, Glendale coffeehouse owner-son (also played by Pirhamzei) — to star in a reality show as an Old World wise “uncle” enlisted to fix a dysfunctional L.A. family consisting of Blair (Missi Pyle), her lawyer-fiancé, Damon (John Michael Higgins); her about-to-be ex-husband, Jack (Anthony Clark); and Blair and Jack’s kids: surly teen Kim (Carly Chaikin) and mouthy 10-year-old Beau (Sage Ryan).

It’s no great surprise how things end up for this tossed-under-one-roof bunch. How they get there, however, provides a largely fertile playground for the picture’s talented comic ensemble.

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“My Uncle Rafael.” MPAA rating: PG-13 for some language and sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. At selected theaters.


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