You pretty much know you’re going to like “Puerto Ricans in Paris” if you’re grabbed by the title and the fact that the iracible Luis Guzman is one of its leads. While Ian Edelman’s feature is far more nuanced as a seductive, relaxed comic mystery, a style that won’t seem unfamiliar to fans of his last collaboration with Guzman, the HBO series “How to Make It in America,” announcing itself as a fish out of water buddy comedy so boldly suggests the simple comic pleasures to be had, and Edelman doesn’t skimp on them.
“Puerto Ricans in Paris” doesn’t even bother to change the names of its lead characters from their real-life counterparts, Luis (Guzman) and Edgar (Edgar Garcia). But it does make them cops for the NYPD, skilled at tracking down counterfeit goods. After a successful handbag bust in the city, the two are asked by a French designer named Colette (Alice Taglioni) to locate her latest creation before it’s duplicated for the black market, offering them each $150,000 and an all expenses paid trip to the City of Lights. Both readily accept, not only for the extra scratch, but because they’re both in the doghouse with their significant others (Rosie Perez and Rosario Dawson). Once they cross the Atlantic, they have a relatively easy task in narrowing down the five suspects that Colette believes have a motive, all the while attending the parties that their fashionable client can get them into and lapping up the culture. As Luis remarks upon stepping foot on Parisian soil, “It’s Paris, baby, the cigarettes are healthier here.”
Yet it is Edgar, who comes to really like pistachio macarons as well as the attention of Colette, in spite of his wife back home, that drives the story since Luis is less enamored of the place, which in its serenity positions him as a bull in a China shop. As out of their element as the two might be, “Puerto Ricans in Paris” is refreshing because of how right it feels for the times, every bit as sleek and sophisticated as one of Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” capers, but featuring proudly Latino leads whose ethnicity never is pronounced for the sake of the story or a joke. (Damian Acevedo’s luxuriant cinematography surely makes the production feel larger than it was.) However, that wouldn’t mean much if “Puerto Ricans in Paris” weren’t entertaining and although it never reaches the raucous levels one might expect given Guzman’s involvement, it has the kind of satisfying vacation feel its protagonists are secretly seeking when their assigned the Colette job.
Though it reaches a clever conclusion, Edelman and co-writer Neel Shah only half-heartedly seem interested in the mystery they’ve created, wisely using it as a playground for Guzman and Garcia to work their magic as an Abbott & Costello-esque team. It also seems a shame that Perez, Dawson and Miriam Shor, who plays Luis and Edgar’s partner on sting operations, are all left back home once the two depart for Europe since they all make such an immediate impression. However, there’s more than enough fun to be had in Paris – it’s both natural and entirely appropriate that there’s a gag reel interspersed within the end credits – and while the detective duo’s plans to cruise on charm may backfire at times, the same can’t be said for the film which, given the room to breathe, is quite the pleasant diversion.