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Director: Fina Torres

Producers: Nancy Paloian, Alan Poul

Written by: Vera Blasi

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Murilo Benicio, Harold Perrineau, Jr., Mark Feuerstein

Rating: .5 out of 5

Billing itself as a story of love, cooking and motion sickness, WOMAN ON TOP is a pleasantly flawed movieótasty but somehow unsatisfying. Writer Blasi and Director Torres are by no means the first to ponder the intersection of corporeal hungers. Youíll be hard pressed not to think of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE or EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (or even the lascivious dining scene of TOM JONES) while watching.

WOMAN ON TOP is a fairy tale, and, as in the best fairy tales, fates or fairies bestow upon the heroine both a blessing and a curse. From infancy, Isabella (Cruz) has been plagued by motion sickness. Her malady is so severe that even an elevator ride brings on nausea. Quelling it dictates that Isabella must be in the driverís seat for everything from modes of transportation to sex. Since she canít get around much, Isabella learns to cook, and becomes so gifted that her dishes call people from across town to eat them. One day, a serenader appears below her balcony. In a trice, Isabella and the smolderingly beautiful Toninho (Benicio) fall in love and marry. Toninho opens a beachside restaurant, which becomes fabulously successful due to Isabellaís dishes. They have good food and good sex. Grateful as he is, though, Toninho soon begins to feel that a man is not a man unless he takes charge. So he takes charge, in the good old missionary position, of a curvaceous neighbor. Isabella catches him in flagrante, packs her bags and travels from Brazil to San Francisco, where she moves in with her childhood playmate, Monica (Perrineau). The distraught Toninho curses the sea gods, causing fishers to haul up empty nets and his restaurant to founder, then sets off after Isabella.

The rest of the movie involves Isabellaís declaration of newfound independence from Toninho, the parlaying of her culinary talents into a TV series, a new potential romance, the righting of a curse, and a happy ending. Now that I look back on it, it kind of sounds like an opera, doesnít it?

For every delightful, magical, fairy-tale moment, (and there are many) I was perplexed by questions the script didnít bother to address. Why is Isabella such a pawn for ambitious producer Cliff (Feuerstein)? Why isnít Monica more of a helpful pal and less of a flamboyant stereotype? Why doesnít Toninho go home? What, aside from their obvious physical charms, made Isabella and Toninho a couple in the first place? And why should I root for Isabella to get with any guy in the story?

But more about those delightful moments. Soulful, tormented Toninho gets to walk around San Francisco with his own theme music. Brazil and San Francisco, as realized by Torres, are a virtual United Nations of people of color. Cruz and Benicio are pretty, pretty people. Although there is no physical resemblance, Cruz has some sort of Audrey Hepburn thing going on. Plus, WOMAN ON TOP had the services of a top-notch food stylist, who created attractive dishes I could almost smell.

WOMAN ON TOP is a just-adequate story, but a great date movie, like a ho-hum entrée surrounded by fantastic side dishes. I was definitely hungry for something when I left.

—Roxanne Bogucka, an Action Grrl!

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

- Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

- Itís worth a full-price ticket.

- Itís worth a matinee ticket.

- Wait for video rental.

- Check out the video from the library, if you must.

- While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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