(2005) ** Pg-13
108 min. Destination Films. Director: Renee Chabria. Cast: John Leguizamo, Ana Claudia Talancon, Jesus Ochoa, Osvaldo Benavides (II), Elizabeth Peña.

"I was lucky," explains Antonio. "I came from the most beautiful place on Earth, where music was everywhere, and people believed there was no difference between being awake and dreaming." The place is Mexico, but the dreaming leads Antonio to the bright-lit big City of Angels. There, the young man works hard, attempts to win an audience for his music, and chases love of the local beauty. Renée Chabria's debut feature Sueño is so good-natured and well-intentioned (showcasing as it does up-and-coming Latino bands) that it's tempting to overlook its significant narrative flaws.

Chabria's slim script gains weight from the music and a committed cast of fine actors. Though he's clearly too old for the part, John Leguizamo plays Antonio with youthful enthusiasm (and bad hair). Upon his arrival in America, Antonio discovers that his new next-door neighbor Mirabela (Elizabeth Peña, always a pleasure) harbors a suppressed talent for song. Unfortunately, the middle-aged divorcée mistakenly assumes that the young man wants to romance her. Another new friend, an NPR DJ named Zorro (Nestor Serrano), encourages Antonio to enter the "Chance of a Lifetime Mystery Musician Contest," the film's ticking-clock climax in waiting. Meanwhile, Antonio pursues Nina (Ana Claudia Talancón), the hard-to-get object of his affection.

Like a Bollywood musical, Sueño occasionally erupts into musical reveries, or even brief animations representing inspiration. Leguizamo lip syncs to his own vocals (it's not clear whether Peña's vocals are her own), and the music is peppy and eclectic, ranging from rock en Español to Latin electronica, punk, rap, and old-school Bolero. Unfortunately, as lovingly made as Sueño so obviously is, the whole enterprise still feels canned.

The musical dream sequences fall flat, and the story clunkily introduces problems (like Nina's ailing father), lingers on them for a scene or two, and then abruptly resolves them, with suspicious ease. Despite feinting at an exploration of the Mexican-American immigrant experience, Chabria's film shows no long-term interest (or authenticity) in the subject. In the long run, Sueño is destined to be a blip on its talent's resumés (note also Kal "Kumar" Penn in a small role and producer Marc Forster). The family-friendly themes of community, friendship, and dreams may position Sueño best as a film for music-loving ten-year-olds.

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Aspect ratios:

Number of discs: 1


Street date: 1/17/2006


A vibrant transfer and sweet digital sound are the main draws of Sony's home-theater presentation of Sueño. No extras are provided, save for four previews (The Cave, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Gospel, and La Bamba).
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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