"10 dollars for a cab could be the best investment of your life."
Is this film cheesy? Yes! Is it manipulative? Yes! Is it generic? Yes! But there is something about Instructions Not Included that captures the audience's heart and engages them. The film suffers from a rather weak and cliched opening, but as the story progresses there are truly remarkable moments with some interesting twists along the way that may surprise you. We've seen this premise before in films like Game Plan where a playboy who is afraid of commitment gets his world rocked when he is left in charge of a child he didn't know existed. But this film takes some clever turns transforming this into an above average dramedy that manages to touch your heart. The main themes of the film get across nicely. We are reminded that sometimes life can present challenges in our life that we may not be ready for, but they end up pushing us and we are forced to face our greatest fears for the sake of those we love. There are things we simply can't prepare for and we must learn to deal with those blows. These themes at times might feel a bit overloaded and at times the movie falls into melodramatic territory, but the chemistry between Derbez and Peralta elevate this film. The manipulative and over sentimental moments are eased through comedic relief. This is Eugenio Derbez's feature debut as a director and he delivers a touching family friendly film. He is one of the best known comedians in Latin America for his TV sketches (La Familia P. Luche), and at times the film feels like one. Some of the sketches work really well and others just don't belong here. That is what ultimately hurts the film as a whole, but the sketches are held together by the chemistry between the two leads. Derbez also is great with his play on words, and unfortunately a lot of those elements are lost in the translation, but Spanish speaking audiences will appreciate those moments more.
Valentin (Eugenio Derbez) has always been afraid of mostly everything in life, ranging from small things such as spiders and heights to big things such as commitment. He seems to be living a pretty comfortable life as Acapulco's playboy, but his life takes an unexpected turn when one of his casual encounters comes knocking at his door a couple of years later. Julie (Jessica Lindsey), a former fling he barely remembers, introduces Valentin to his baby daughter and asks him to hold the baby while she returns to pay the cab. Julie never returns, and Valentin is left clueless as to how to care for the baby. Remembering she is from Los Angeles he makes the trip hoping to find her there and return the baby, but as expected he never finds her. Valentin spends the next six years raising his daughter Maggie (Loreto Peralta) in Los Angeles after landing a job as a Hollywood stunt men thanks to a casual encounter with film producer Frank Ryan (Daniel Raymont) who sees how Valentin leaps from the 8th floor of a hotel suit to save his baby from drowning in a pool. Maggie shakes Valentin's world as she becomes the center of his life as he completely spoils her and tells her stories about her mother's heroics across the globe saving the planet. But Valentin is faced with yet another challenge when out of nowhere Julie shows up to meet her daughter now that she feels ready to be a part of her life.
The first 15 minutes of the film feel completely formulaic and cliched. You expect to know where the movie is heading, and perhaps you might, but there are some interesting twists and shifts of tone that take place that raise the bar for an otherwise below average film. Derbez and Peralta's father and daughter relationship lifts this film thanks to their excellent chemistry. Peralta is a small force and has an onscreen charisma and likability, she plays off Eugenio Derbez extremely well. As I mentioned before, the film feels more like a bunch of sketches put together rather than a complete movie, and that is what brings the film down at times. Some of the characters that are introduced during these moments are underdeveloped and we could have been better off without them since the film feels overlong at times. The scenes with the neighbor, played by Karla Souza (from Nosotros los Nobles) don't work at all since the "plumbing" jokes are old and something we have seen before in his TV sketches. The same could be said for Sammy Perez who has worked with Derbez in TV before and is playing the same character. Fans of Derbez might enjoy these small touches, but for international audiences this could have been left out. This is a sweet charming film with a lot of heart that makes for an entertaining viewing with the family. It has many flaws, but at the end I felt it was rather effective. If you don't like being emotionally manipulated than you might not want to see this, but otherwise I would definitely recommend Instructions Not Included (No Se Aceptan Devoluciones).