The opening credits of the romantic comedy Immigration Tango feature lots of lovely shots of Miami locales, scored to bouncy Latin music. The sequence could be used as an ad for the Miami-Dade County Film & Entertainment Office, and the rest of the movie follows suit, making the city look like a thriving paradise. That’s about all there is be said about Immigration Tango that’s good: The rest of this excruciatingly dumb, formulaic picture, which somehow required the work of four screenwriters but contains not even one single, fleeting moment of wit or humor, makes you long to dance out of the theater and go for a stroll on one of those beautiful beaches onscreen.
Essentially a rip-off of Green Card with a few new wrinkles, the movie focuses on the relationship between Carlos (Carlos Leon) and Elena (Elika Portnoy), who live together on his boat. He’s Colombian, she’s Russian, and her immigration visa is about to expire, which means she’ll have to leave the country unless she can get a job or marry an American citizen. For some unexplained reason, Elena hasn’t tried to find work until the last possible second. With time running out, Carlos turns to his best friend Mike White (McCaleb Burnett) and asks for a huge favor: Marry Elena and pretend to be her husband for two years, so she’ll be able to remain in the U.S.
Mike, who lives with his own girlfriend Betty (Ashley Wolfe), agrees to help his pal out, figuring all he’ll have to do is sign some papers, pose for a couple of photos and then go back to his own life. But a snooping immigration officer (played by Avery Sommers, stuck in a cartoonish role that makes you feel sorry for the actress) starts coming around to make sure the newlyweds really are a couple. So Carlos and Mike have to swap homes for a while, and inevitably, they start growing attracted to each other’s girlfriends.
Immigration Tango, which was directed by David Burton Morris with little attention toward logic or credibility, is built around a contrived premise, a staple of the rom-com genre. But the movie never comes close to making you believe such an arrangement between these people could ever exist. In one scene, someone will be complaining about how crazy the whole idea is and how the plan is doomed to fail. In the next scene, that same character will be convincing someone else that everything will be OK if everyone just plays their parts. The actors play their parts straight with the exception of Leon, who tries to muster up some movie-star charisma as Carlos, a carefree guy who likes to refer to himself as “the Latin lover” even though he lives in Miami, and who excuses his uncontrollable sex drive in one scene by exclaiming “I’m Latin! It’s in my blood!”
That’s the level of humor at work in Immigration Tango, which includes a Thanksgiving visit to the home of Mike’s parents, who are shocked to find out their son has suddenly married a Russian (“They used to be our enemy!” his mother hisses about her new daughter-in-law). Although their relationship is supposed to remain strictly platonic, Mike hasn’t spent one day living on the boat with Elena before she’s skinny dipping in front of him and asking “Does this make you uncomfortable?” Immigration Tango also features one of the laziest, most out-of-left-field resolutions I’ve ever seen in a film. Once the story has painted the characters into a corner, and Elena seems destined to have to return to Russia, everything is suddenly resolved by an off-screen conversation that makes you wonder why anyone fretted about the situation in the first place. Like so many American indie films marketed at Spanish-speaking audiences, Immigration Tango is insulting to your intelligence, derivative to a fault and completely devoid of entertainment – a marketing hook masquerading as a movie.
Cast: Elika Portnoy, McCaleb Burnett, Carlos Leon, Ashley Wolfe, Avery Sommers.
Director: David Burton Morris.
Screenwriters: Martin L. Kelley, Robert J. Lee, David Burton Morris, Todd Norwood.
Producer: Elika Portnoy.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, brief nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday Feb. 18 in Miami-Dade only: Aventura, Sunset Place, South Beach, Mall of the Americas, Paragon.