''Ana Maria'' lightweight comedy

(MENAFN- Arab Times) LOS ANGELES Feb 28 (RTRS): It''s not absolutely necessary to be familiar with the conventions and archetypes of soapy telenovelas to enjoy a few laughs with ''Ana Maria in Novela Land'' a lightweight comedy about an obsessed viewer who magically switches places with the leading lady of her favorite TV show.

But those who have at least a nodding acquaintance with the highly addictive serial dramas will smile even more often than the uninitiated as director and co-scripter Georgina Garcia Riedel (''How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer'') affectionately satirizes both the limited-run series and their most avid aficionados. This overlong but modestly amusing bilingual indie could attract a few fans of its own in limited theatrical release and ancillary platforms.

Edy Ganem of Lifetime''s ''Devious Maids'' is by turns perky sultry and screechy in the dual role of Ariana the sexy/sullen heroine of a popular telenovela titled ''Pasion sin limites'' (''Passion Without Limits'') and Ana Maria an under-achieving twentysomething who spends far too much time focused on the soap. Between live-tweeting the telenovela while it airs writing fan fiction featuring its lead characters and spending almost every waking moment mulling over new plot developments Ana Maria has little time for anything else. Unfortunately her inattentiveness has cost her three jobs.

Even more unfortunately she''s unable or unwilling to devote time to her sister''s upcoming wedding or her best''s friend''s musical endeavors.

When a rogue lightning bolt and unexplained movie magic conspire to transport Ana Maria and Ariana into each other''s worlds Ana Maria views the switcheroo as quite literally a dream come true. Trouble is dreams have a nasty habit of turning into nightmares especially when while living la vida loca Ana Maria finds herself torn between a wealthy older suitor (Juan Pablo Gamboa) and the suitor''s hunky son (Michael Steger) and blackmailed by the suitor''s creepy business associate (a zestfully over-the-top Luis Guzman).

Meanwhile back in the ''real'' world Ariana is horrified to find herself in the modest East Los Angeles home where 26-year-old Ana Maria still lives with her parents (Elizabeth Pena Nestor Serrano). At first she fears not without some justification that she has been kidnapped. Her bizarre behavior puzzles and upsets Ana Maria''s clueless mom and dad who assume not without a lot of justification their little girl has gone bonkers. Fortunately they live next door to a nice young doctor (also played by Steger) who''s so sweet on Ana Maria that he doesn''t mind that she isn''t quite herself these days.

''Ana Maria in Novela Land'' plays like a replay of bits and pieces borrowed from earlier (and better) comedies ''Pleasantville'' and ''The Purple Rose of Cairo'' are just two of its most obvious sources and the ratio of frantic vamping to truly funny stuff grows higher as the film reaches the finish line. Still Ganem has sufficient verve and appeal to sustain interest in both of her characters and the sporadic tweaking of telenovelas and the fans who love them is often quite clever.


Inside the world of ''Pasion sin limites'' Ana Maria is befuddled to discover this is a place where toilets (and television sets) don''t exist dowdy maids have colorfully checkered pasts long-deceased characters aren''t necessarily dead and unseen musicians provide intrusive accompaniment for every melodramatic moment. Meanwhile back in reality a Korean-American cop (John Patrick Barry) proudly announces he learned Spanish while studying yes you guessed it telenovelas.

Production designer Laurel Frank and costume designer Lauren Oppelt contribute more than their fair share of sight gags while contrasting the lavish lifestyles of the telenovela cast with the unremarkable ordinariness of Ana Maria''s workaday world. The end credits respectfully note that ''Ana Maria in Novela Land'' is dedicated to Pena who died last fall at age 55.


LOS ANGELES: Robert Townsend has come on board to direct a new version of ''Brewster''s Millions'' three decades after the Richard Pryor comedy was released. The story is based on the 1902 novel by George Barr McCutcheon that was adapted into a play in 1906 and made into films 10 times including a lost 1914 release directed by Cecil B. DeMille at the start of his career.

The Pryor version co-starred John Candy and was directed by Walter Hill. The Universal release was a solid performer with a $45 million domestic gross.

Producers of the new ''Brewster''s Millions'' are Joseph and Jack Nasser. The adaptation was written by Michael William Schmidt and follows Monty Brewster who is set to inherit $1 billion - with one key caveat: He must spend $100 million in one week or end up with nothing more than the clothes on his back. APA will handle domestic sales of the film.

Townsend''s first feature was 1987''s ''Hollywood Shuffle'' which he directed from his own script and starred in. He also directed ''Eddie Murphy: Raw'' ''The Five Heartbeats'' and ''Meteor Man.'' TV credits include creating and starring in ''The Parent ''Hood'' the ''Partners in Crime'' specials for HBO and creating and producing the ''Townsend Television'' series for Fox.

The Nassers are producers on ''Final Girl'' starring Abigail Breslin and Alexander Ludwig.

Townsend is repped by APA and Laffmobb Enterprises.

LOS ANGELES: With their film ''The Revenant'' set to bow this Christmas New Regency and Leonardo DiCaprio have moved fast to set up their next project together. Sources tell Variety that Leonardo DiCaprio''s production banner Appian Way has come on as a producer of ''The Crowded Room'' an adaptation of the Daniel Keyes nonfiction book that centered around Billy Milligan the first person to successfully use multiple personality disorder as a legal defense.

Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg who is also a writer on Todd Phillips'' next feature ''Arms and the Dudes'' have been set as scribes. DiCaprio will produce alongside Jennifer Davisson and Alexandra Milchan.

The pic has been in development for quite some time at New Regency. Story follows Milligan who was charged in the late ''70s with armed robbery and the rapes of three women on the Ohio State University campus. Milligan who was diagnosed with multiple personality syndrome was able to convince the court that it was one of his alternate personalities that committed the crimes and not him.

DiCaprio is repped by LBI Entertainment and Smilovic and Katzberg are repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news.

Arab Times

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