Roadside Attractions
Tammy Blanchard stars as a pregnant waitress and Eduardo Verastegui as the man who comes to her aid in heavy-handed "Bella."
BELLA — ** — Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez; rated PG-13 (violence, brief gore, brief drugs)

The cast of "Bella" deserves a better movie. And so does the audience.

This well-intentioned but ultimately heavy-handed drama does feature a couple of good performances, especially by Eduardo Verastegui, Mexican cinema's equivalent of Brad Pitt.

In fact, he and co-star Tammy Blanchard might have been enough to save the movie if the filmmakers hadn't made their intentions so obvious.

"Bella" turns out to be a clumsy message movie, one that leaves a lingering bad taste, whatever your beliefs regarding its highly divisive subject, abortion.

Blanchard stars as Nina, a New York City waitress who has just discovered she's pregnant. She's also consistently late to work, so the heartless restaurant manager, Manny (Manny Perez), has given her the ax.

The troubled Nina finds an unexpected savior in the person of Jose (Verastegui), Manny's kind-hearted brother. He follows her out of the restaurant and offers a listening ear and a comforting shoulder.

Jose also questions Nina about her plans, such as what she's going to do about her pregnancy. (She's already told him she's leaning toward having an abortion.)

Once a promising athlete, Jose has a traumatizing incident in his past, and as the afternoon progresses he reveals details from that life-changing event that he hopes may influence Nina's decision.

Co-screenwriter/director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde allegedly based his tale on a true story. But much of this doesn't ring true.

Most of the supporting characters are one-note caricatures (especially Manny), and the contrived plotting almost proves to be too much for the talented Verastegui and Blanchard (seen most recently in "The Good Shepherd").

"Bella" is rated PG-13 for brief strong violence (an auto-pedestrian accident, mostly overheard), disturbing gory imagery (seen very briefly), discussion of adult themes (including abortion), and brief drug references. Running time: 91 minutes.

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