After years of being looked upon in Hollywood as little more than a notable character actor, Luis Guzman finally steps front and center for a starring role in Ian Edelman’s Puerto Ricans In Paris, a whodunit style crime-comedy that runs thin on jokes long before reaching its finish line. Still, thanks to strong performances and more than a handful of decent twists, the film is able to deliver quality entertainment worthy of recommendation.
Guzman and co-star Edgar Garcia play a pair of New York City detectives and lifelong best friends known for spotting and stopping the spread of counterfeit merchandise. Following their most recent bust—which included a run-in with a criminal (Ravi Patel) known for hocking knock-off Louis Vuitton bags—the detectives are asked to travel to Paris in order to assist in the retrieval of a missing handbag. The thieves responsible have threatened to flood the market with fake handbags in advance of the real bag’s official launch, and the designer responsible for the merchandise, Collette (Alice Taglioni), does not believe the French police are taking the need to act swiftly as seriously as they should. The detectives have no interest in participating in the hunt at first, but after they are promised an all-expenses-paid trip and a reward of $150,000 each they quickly change their minds.
What follows from this point forward is largely a fish out of water tale meets buddy comedy, with Garcia playing the straight man to Guzman’s thirst for sex and alcohol. Both men have women back home, but neither one left their relationships on good terms. Guzman’s young girlfriend (an underutilized Rosario Dawson) is tired of waiting for her other half to pop the question, and Garcia’s wife (an equally underutilized Rosie Perez) is tired of living with a man who never remembers her birthday or his own anniversary. They probably aren’t too happy about the fact the men in their lives are currently in Paris without them either, but that point is rarely addressed because it doesn’t add much, if any, dramatic weight to the narrative. Writers Ian Edelman and Neel Shah know that a story like this needs some emotional tension to bring its otherwise by-the-numbers leads to life, and they find the drama they need in the simple fact that both men are unsure of where they each need to go in life. Paris, for them, is a chance to disengage from the daily grind and figure out what truly matters, and therein lies the heart of this trope-heavy tale.
In order to tackle the task of making us care for the characters, Puerto Ricans In Paris moves the mystery of the missing handbag slowly to the back burner for the bulk of its second and third acts. Guzman and Garcia are always on the hunt for answers, but it’s their struggle to understand their personal lives, as well as one another’s personal life, that steals the spotlight through the majority of the film. Where this may be cause for concern in certain circumstances, it’s actually rather refreshing here, as none of the characters on screen would be all that fun to watch without the interpersonal drama running throughout every sequence. That said, the mystery of who stole the bag and their true intentions for doing so is well thought out, and the narrative makes sure to add a fresh twist every ten or fifteen minutes to keep you guessing as to who may responsible for the crime. You might not care as much about the answer as you do about the plights of the characters, but Edelman and Shah don’t let that deter them from delivering a solid crime story.
Where the film struggles is with its humor, which becomes increasingly intermittent as the dramatic stakes begin to rise. Guzman has a knack for bringing an inherent sense of comedy to most proceedings, which helps the film early on, but by the halfway point even his best efforts have eroded to tired xenophobic one-liners and mean-spirited jabs. I mean, honestly, how many times can we be expected to hear about how taxis are afraid to pick up people of color before screenwriters develop a new way to deliver the same gag? We get it—Garcia and Guzman look different than everyone else onscreen. That punchline is apparent from the title card, so why return to it again and again unless you have no other jokes to offer?
There is an argument to be made for Puerto Ricans In Paris working better as a television miniseries than a feature film, but such thinking assumes the taut drama of the movie could be stretched over several hours and I don’t know if that is true. The chemistry Guzman and Garcia share is the main attraction, and while it lasts their brotherhood feels real, but these characters are not developed for the long haul in any way, shape, or form. By the time the pair return to New York City it’s clear where their futures are headed, and viewers will be perfectly satisfied with the personal evolution they each have undergone during the story’s brief 82-minute runtime. Too much of a good thing is entirely possible when it comes to fictional storytelling, and Edelman and Shah show a real understanding of how to give us just enough to leave us wanting more with Puerto Ricans In Paris.