There’s a simple reason that the plot of Overboard sounds like the sort of over-the-top, highly implausible, downright cruel and unscrupulous stuff you’d see in some wrongheaded comedy from the ’80s. The new Overboard is a gender-swapped reimagining of the 1987 comedy of the same name, the one where a stuck-up heiress (Goldie Hawn) suffers amnesia and then gets convinced by a vengeful carpenter (Hawn’s real-life boo, Kurt Russell) that she’s a blue-collar wife and mother. The movie, in fact, has the whiff of a straight-to-video sequel, since a character casually mentions that the first movie happened in the same town where this movie is set.
Overboard in 2018 is mainly a vehicle for its star/producer, Eugenio Derbez. A comedy god back in Mexico, Derbez made an international name for himself when his 2013 film Instructions Not Included, which he co-wrote, directed and starred in, made more than $99 million worldwide. Since then, Derbez has been trying to make himself known in Tinseltown. A year ago, he produced and headlined How to Be a Latin Lover, where he played an aging Lothario who had to learn to get his shit together after his old-ass sugar mama kicked him to the curb. (That scored $62 million.)
Just as in Instructions and Lover, Derbez goes the playboy route in Overboard. He’s Leonardo Montenegro, the spoiled-rotten bad boy of a rich Mexican family. While his old man (Fernando Lujan) is withering away back at home, planning to hand down his empire if and when he croaks, Leonardo has docked stateside on his yacht (literally called “Birthday Present”), partying with bikini-clad ladies and basically acting like an ass, especially to regular folk. One of those people is Kate Sullivan (Anna Faris), a pizza-delivering, carpet-cleaning single mom of three who literally gets tossed off the boat by Leonardo when she refuses to serve him a mango.
Karma, of course, hits Leonardo like a mofo when, during a storm, he falls off the boat. He ends up washed ashore, with no recollection of who he is. Still smarting from being kicked off his boat with no pay — and searching for a babysitter to cover her time studying to be a nurse after her actress mom (Swoosie Kurtz) takes a stage-acting job out of town — Kate gets persuaded by her best gal pal (Eva Longoria) to check Leonardo out of the hospital, convince him that they’re husband and wife, and take him home so he can help out around the house.
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At their core, both Overboards are traditional rich-person-learns-how-to-be-a-real-person farces, the kinds of films Frank Capra and Preston Sturges used to direct in their sleep. But let’s be real. That premise is so jacked up that it’s insane that Hollywood would bank on a remake. Faris, who has spent these past several years showing audiences she can play a harried single mother on the sitcom Mom, is too likable a presence to despise no matter who she’s playing. But Kate is essentially committing kidnapping and, later, when wife and husband get conjugal, rape. In the real world, Kate would almost certainly go to jail and lose her kids. But it’s not giving much away to say that the sight of Faris in Orange Is the New Black gear is something you won’t see here.
The evidence suggests that Derbez and sitcom writer-turned-director Rob Greenberg (who co-wrote with Wedding Crashers writer Bob Fisher) wanted to keep this all as light and inoffensive as possible. That explains why much of the comedy is broad and toothless. But Derbez’s character eventually becoming a thoughtful husband, a caring father and the kind of decent man the ol’ girl wouldn’t mind sharing a bed with doesn’t quite disguise the fact that this is some deceitful, felonious, gaslighting-type shit.
I do have to hand it to Derbez for keeping his performance cute and sympathetic. At first his character is so stereotypically dickish, he’s more cliché than human. But when he falls off that boat and literally and figuratively gets down to Earth, he displays an amusing, almost neurotic vulnerability that reminds me of Gene Wilder back in his prime. It’s obvious he gets a kick out of playing a comically sensitive soul, the sort of person who’d throw an overdramatic tantrum that is equal parts ridiculous and sweet.
Yeah, Overboard is a manipulative mindfuck dressed up as a lightweight, heartwarming comedy. But this is really a chance for Derbez to win over American audiences. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie makes Trumpers reconsider that whole building-a-wall thing — especially if charming people like Derbez are on the other side.