Review: ‘Tio Papi’ elevates a likable but one-dimensional hero
The problem with parents is that they die, sometimes all too soon. When a car accident leaves the six Reyes children orphaned, their Uncle Ray Ray (Joey Dedio, who co-wrote the script), a hardworking but self-centered bachelor, takes them in. Barely all squeezing into Ray Ray’s one-bedroom apartment, the kids are supposed to stay with their Tio Papi (Uncle Daddy) only until social services can find them permanent homes, most likely with separate families.
With such high emotional stakes, “Tio Papi” has no option but to transform itself from a light tragicomedy into an urban fairy tale. That Ray Ray will become a worthy father to his nieces and nephews and earn back his ex-girlfriend Cheeky (a miscast Elizabeth Rodriguez) with his newfound maturity is a foregone conclusion. The specter of familial fracture — embodied by a chilly social worker (Kelly McGillis) — is terrifying enough that Ray Ray’s belated journey into manhood never feels sentimental or precious.
But it also never strikes an emotional tone that’s more than blandly agreeable. Dedio undoubtedly wrote Ray Ray as a star turn, but the character is so forcefully written to be likable — in this case, as a nebulously defined everyman — that he never feels human enough to empathize with. The lack of distinction among the six children seals the characters’ fates: They aren’t meant to experience full lives, only miracles.
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, mild rude humor and brief language.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood; the Regency Van Nuys Plant 16; Bianchi Theater, Paramount; Krikorian Pico Rivera Village Walk 15.
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