Mad About Mambo

on August 04, 2000 by Mike Kerrigan
   A would-be soccer star from the wrong side of the tracks takes up Latin American ballroom dancing to improve his game. He meets a poor little rich girl at dance class and she hates him on sight. Of course they will fall in love and tango together into the sunset; nothing is more certain. But it is the appealing way they do it and the unusual background in which it is all set that make this one so much better than many of its contemporaries.

   The location is Belfast and the Troubles are ever present, like the allegorical 800-pound gorilla. But wisely writer/director John Forte doesn't make a big deal out of them. They are just there, bound up with all the religious differences. In fact, his Belfast is a terribly normal place, with people having the same hopes and dreams as those in other industrialized nations (with the addition of heavily armed soldiers at the occasional checkpoint).

   Forte creates wonderfully quirky characters and gets great performances from a young cast. So he deserves the great good fortune of having cast Keri Russell as the rich kid right before she landed the role of TV's "Felicity." Not only will she help the film find an audience in the U.S., but when this was shot she still had those glorious curls. It also is worth noting that the adorable Ms. Russell not only dances like a dream but acts as beautifully as she looks. Her handling of the tricky accent is particularly convincing.

   Playing opposite her in this charming and often very funny little film is William Ash, who has been acting since he was a child and is well-known in Britain. This will help spread the word of his talents. Veteran actor Brian Cox--he was the first Hannibal Lecter in "Manhunter"--has a great time as Keri's Dad, a self-made do-it-yourself tycoon, and heads a very strong supporting cast.    Starring William Ash, Keri Russell and Brian Cox. Directed and written by John Forte. Produced by David P. Kelly. A USA release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for language. Running time: 92 min.

Tags: Keri Russell, Brian Cox, William Ash, John Forte, romance, dance, sports, soccer

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