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Movie Review

‘Tango’ plot is more fizzle than sizzle

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By Loren King
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2011

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The woes of undocumented workers get the sitcom treatment in this lighthearted but uninspired romantic comedy about two couples who swap mates to try to subvert immigration officials.

Attractive Russian student Elena Dubrovnik (Elika Portnoy) lives in Miami Beach with an about-to-expire visa. She shares a houseboat with boyfriend Carlos (Carlos Leon), a chef from Colombia who’s in the same position with the clock ticking — albeit less urgently — on expiration of his own papers. Unable to land a job, Elena braces for deportation. Then, over a bottle of wine, the couple’s American friends come up with a plan. Bookish Mike (McCaleb Burnett), a perennial student working on his doctorate in English literature, will wed Elena with plans that they’ll divorce after the two-year probationary period ends. Mike’s girlfriend, Betty (Ashley Wolfe), an ambitious law student, will do the same for Carlos down the road.

As soon as Mike and Elena exchange awkward vows at a quickie wedding service, it’s obvious where the pedestrian plot is headed. Although neither couple makes convincing “best friends,’’ the likable cast sometimes manages to squeeze life out of the stale material.

Mike moves into the houseboat with Elena while Carlos flops down on Betty’s couch. Leon and Wolfe are saddled with the bickering-because-they’re-really-attracted-to-each-other cliche, with Leon’s hot-blooded Latin shtick wearing thin. Burnett and Portnoy fare better as the shy pair who gradually fall in love. She reads and understands his dissertation on English sonnets and they actually pull off a scene where they read poetry out loud while lounging on the houseboat dock.

But their ruse doesn’t fool the INS agent (Avery Sommers) who stalks the couples from behind a pair of binoculars in cartoonish scenes that strain credulity even for a film as frothy as this one. To practice their new roles, the couples spend Thanksgiving with Mike’s parents. What could have been an amusingly cringe-inducing, “Meet the Parents’’-style weekend or erotic roundelay is instead just a series of flat jokes about sleeping arrangements and Mike’s boorish dad (Steve DuMouchel) leering at Elena.

Neither the comedy nor the romance is strong enough in “Immigration Tango’’ to offer any improvement on Peter Weir’s similar, and better, 1990 film “Green Card.’’ Despite occasional sparks among the four principals, the dance doesn’t sizzle.

Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.

IMMIGRATION TANGO Directed by: David Burton Morris

Written by: Morris, Martin L. Kelley, Robert J. Lee, Todd Norwood, Elika Portnoy

Starring: Portnoy, Carlos Leon, Ashley Wolfe, McCaleb Burnett

At: Fresh Pond Cinema

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: R (nudity, sexuality)

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