Bob Marshak, Columbia Pictures
Flor, played by Paz Vega, is a maid who becomes confidante to her employer, John, played by Adam Sandler.

"Spanglish" is the work of a filmmaker who's simply trying too hard, a filmmaker who's clearly straining to be funny, heartwarming and more than a little bit quirky.

The funny thing about that is, this comedy-drama was written and directed by James Brooks, whose best works — "Terms of Endearment," "Broadcast News," "As Good as It Gets" — have never seemed as artificial and forced as this one.

The nearly constant barrage of culture-clash observations becomes a little wearying. Also, at 130 minutes, the movie is so long and so meandering that it seems unfocused. Whatever point Brooks was trying to make gets lost and seems patronizing.

"Spanglish" follows Flor Moreno (Paz Vega), a Mexican single mother who takes her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) to the United States in the hopes of finding a better life. She quickly finds employment as a maid in the home of John Clasky (Adam Sandler), the chef and owner of an upscale Los Angeles restaurant.

However, Flor's lack of English-speaking skills are something of a hindrance at first, leading to a series of misunderstandings with John's high-strung, neurotic wife, Deborah (TZa Leoni), who's neglecting her husband and children, especially their supposedly calorically challenged daughter, Bernice (Sarah Steele).

So the understanding, compassionate Flor becomes a surrogate mother figure to the girl and a confidante to John — though her relationship with Deborah is considerably more strained, especially since it appears the pampered housewife is trying to turn Cristina into a miniature version of herself.

In essence, this is Brooks' attempt at "Mary Poppins," but addressing modern-day concerns. Unfortunately, very little of it is convincing and the characters aren't nearly as endearing as they should be.

That holds true most of all for Leoni, who's usually a dependable, watchable actress. But her character is written as quite shrill, and Leoni plays her so over the top that it's painful to watch. As for Sandler, he's passable in this more dramatic role — even if he and Vega don't have much chemistry.

The supporting performers deserve better, especially Steele and, as Deborah's alcoholic mother, Cloris Leachman, who's consigned to a demeaning role; she's often the butt of rather mean-spirited jokes.

"Spanglish" is rated PG-13 for scattered use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), a sex scene (done for laughs), some off-color sexual humor and some brief drug content (references). Running time: 130 minutes.


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