‘Yucatán’ is a caper comedy that’s long on cons but short on laughs

Frivolity is the name of the game in Netflix‘s Yucatán, a Spanish-language caper comedy set aboard a cruise ship. This is the kind of movie people refer to when they label something “mindless entertainment.” The movie’s greatest strength and greatest weakness is its commitment to being fun. I know, I sound like an idiot for complaining about a movie that wants to deliver a good time. Problem is, Yucatán is only amusing in fits and starts and wears out its welcome two-thirds of the way through the movie. You’ll be ready to call it a day long before Yucatán arrives at the port.

Yucatán
Two and a half stars

 

RELEASE DATE: 2/15/2019
DIRECTOR: Daniel Monzón
STREAMING: Netflix
When a wealthy man goes on a cruise, con men and women all make a run at him in an attempt to get some of his money.

Antonio (Joan Pera), a well-to-do senior, goes on a family cruise and becomes the object of everyone’s affection. It’s easy to see why people are drawn to the man: He’s a friendly guy and Pera’s performance is warm and inviting. Between his winning personality and the fortune he won in the lottery, Antonio doesn’t lack for friends on the cruise. The movie’s biggest question is, which of the many dirtbags on the ship will successfully swindle the old man? As the saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Yucatán flips that proverb by making Antonio the only smart person in the movie. He’s kind of the Marge Gunderson of these characters, and initially it’s amusing to watch the various players make their runs at Antonio and come up empty.

The primary antagonists are Clayderman (Rodrigo de la Sema), Veronica (Stephanie Cayo), and Lucas (Luis Rosar), who used to work as a team. Clayderman and Veronica are now in a relationship and work on the cruise ship, where they run their small-time scams on passengers. As with all crumbled love triangles, Lucas pops up to wreck Clayderman and Veronica’s plans. The three actors have good chemistry and their relationship has enough edge to keep things lively. Other people gunning for Antonio’s riches include Brendon (Adrian Nunez) and Carmen (Gloria Munoz), though it’s hard to root for any of them because they feel too similar. The movie isn’t interested in the characters beyond their greed. That’s a perfectly fine way to approach this story, but when the movie tries to generate some honest sentiment later, it feels hollow.

Netflix Yucatán review Netflix

Yucatán goes through the recognizable routine of cruise ship activities, each a new opportunity for someone to take a shot at Antonio. Part of the film’s fun is charting the different cons. Director Daniel Monzón, who cowrote the script with Jorge Guerricaechevarria, rearranges the pieces on the board frequently. Allegiances and schemes change constantly. It’s like trying to keep track of a shell game with someone who keeps adding shells. But with a bulky runtime of 130 minutes, the film needs something else besides its schemes to sustain momentum. The characters are underdeveloped, and the actors can only do so much to redeem them. On paper, Clayderman and Lucas are essentially the same person, and Veronica is a sketch of a character.

The moral of the story, as it is in everything from Fargo to Rat Race to A Simple Plan, is that money corrupts the soul. Not a novel idea, but one that is always relevant. The reason it feels trite here is because everyone is so busy lying that it makes you question any potential scraps of honesty. As a con movie, Yucatán is just okay. As a comedy, it’s not particularly funny. There are a couple of big set pieces that are undermined by flat staging. This is most evident during Brendon’s fart attack during a dance routine. The bit goes on long enough that it almost transcends unfunny and loops back around to hilarity.

Netflix Yucatán review Netflix

If you adopt the “just go with it” cruise ship philosophy, Yucatán can deliver a good time. Some of the film’s reveals are fun, and the cast is strong enough to hold your attention. But its aim is so narrow that when it misses the mark, it stands out. The movie needs to be tighter to mask some of the screenplay’s shortcomings. It needs to be funnier than it is. It just needs to be better all around. Really, if you want a breezy, fun con movie, just find Ocean’s Eleven. It’s probably on cable somewhere at this very moment.

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Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.