The makers and distributors of the stale Argentine confection Killing Grandpa would love for me to compare their bland bonbon to the deliciously sexy Mexican mousse Like Water for Chocolate. There are a few similarities: Magic realism informs both tales, and both exalt the power of passion to the point where its importance transcends that of life itself.
But Killing Grandpa lacks its predecessor's subtlety. The new film's reliance on fire-as-metaphor borders on parody. Killing Grandpa opens with one allusion to flame (voice-over narration intones, "Some people can see the light of a candle, even when it's out") and ends with a veritable bonfire A characters "rekindled by flames," searching for sunshine, or blinded by the light of too much heat, not to mention bodies "raging with fire." Yet for all this talk about combustion, Killing Grandpa never really ignites the way Like Water for Chocolate did. The Argentine offering remains strangely cool even when its waif-nymphet heroine Rosita (beguiling Ines Estevez) uses her hot young body to thaw out comatose old Don Mariano (leonine Federico Luppi as the grandpa of the title), who has grown cold with grief and disappointment.
Up to that point, however, you can hardly blame the old man for tuning out. His beloved wife died long ago. His life's dream -- a highway construction project -- fell apart at about the same time. And his two sons and his daughter-in-law hover like vultures, waiting for him to drop dead so they can inherit his $30 million fortune. Consumed by melancholy, the patriarch sneaks away from his 70th birthday party in order to blow out his brains. The suicide attempt fails, and the lonely widower lapses into a coma.
Loyal servant and handyman Ramon (Emilio Bardi), dismayed by this turn of events, calls in his stepsister Rosita, a beautiful but unconventional healer whose therapy for Don Mariano includes a nude body-to-body caress. The cure takes and, to the dismay of his scheming family, Don Mariano recovers speedily. Crestfallen, the greedy relatives conspire to rid themselves of the old man and his miracle-working nurse-lover.
The publicity for Killing Grandpa hints at a torrid May-December romance, a sort of Last Tango in Argentina. Don't believe the hype. Estevez enchants as the bewitching Rosita, and Federico Luppi, with his bushy mane of white hair, looks every inch the virile senior citizen granted a second chance at life thanks to the love of a babe young enough to be his granddaughter. But their romantic interludes do not throw off any sparks; you keep waiting for each to say to the other, "Thanks. That was fun but . . .," at which point both shuffle on down the line with someone closer in age.
You can't help but wonder which will kill grandpa first -- the scheming family or the cardiovascular strain of making love to such a young spitfire? Instead of answering that question, the film inches inexorably toward a contrived, unsatisfactory ending that borders on outright plagiarism of Thelma & Louise. Pleasant, mildly entertaining, but predictable, Killing Grandpa unfolds so slowly you'll think gramps determined the pacing. Like Water for Chocolate? More like water for molasses.