I LIKE IT LIKE THAT is the charming, jam-packed, Latin-driven, attitude-to-burn feature film debut by 24-year-old Darnell Martin, whose pedigree includes NYU film school and a tour of duty with Spike Lee as an assistant camera person. Part of the same high-profile, equal-opportunity
experiment by Columbia Pictures that brought nationwide exposure to John Singleton (BOYZ N THE HOOD) and Robert Rodriguez (EL MARIACHI), this is the first major studio project to be directed by a woman of color.
Lisette (Lauren Velez), a black Latina and mother of three, is living on 167th Street in the Bronx, a block that could have been airlifted straight out of DO THE RIGHT THING. Her affable but macho husband Chino (Jon Seda) prides himself on a sexual prowess he times with an alarm clock. When Chino
joins in the looting during a power blackout, he's sent to the Bronx House of Detention. Lisette's mother won't help, and transvestite brother Alexis (Jesse Borrego) won't give up the $1,500 he's saving for his "operation." Forced to get a job, Lisette makes her way to the San Juan Modeling Agency
in Times Square. This proves to be a scam, but a black female record executive hires her for a modeling job with Latin hiphop superstars the Mendez Brothers.
Or rather, she is hired to play assistant to smarmy record executive Price (Griffin Dunne), who needs someone to bolster his street credibility during a business dinner with the Mendezes. She helps Price snag the record deal with them through her street smarts, and brokers her success into a
full-time job with him. When Price gives Lisette a ride home in his red Porsche at 4:30 a.m., eyebrows are raised in the neighborhood, and soon Chino's friends are visiting him in lockup, saying his wife is two-timing him. This leads to a major blowout once he gets out, and he takes up with
Lisette's sultry rival, Magdalena (Lisa Vidal), who falsely claims her young son was sired by Chino.
Meanwhile, Lisette works wonders for the record business with her street intuition, and as things deteriorate at home, she slips into an ill-considered romance with Price. When she breaks things off, telling him he's really not a sexual person, he fires her. Later, when Price asks Lisette to come
back, she brainstorms a Latin hiphop rendition of "Try A Little Tenderness" for the Mendezes. (Otis Redding's version of the same song is heard earlier when Alexis, in a watershed show of courage, visits his parents in drag, and his father beats him up.) Ready to reconcile, Lisette gives Chino
back one of his shirts with a torn condom wrapper folded inside, claiming that now they're even. The film fades out, just shy of the anticipated reunion with Chino, to a makeshift video for the Mendez Brothers' "Try A Little Tenderness."
I LIKE IT LIKE THAT does a creditable job of presenting life below the poverty line without wallowing in its tragedy. Drugs, violence, crime, and social injustice intrude, but never overwhelm. If there's any real connection with Spike Lee (other than that signature swooping crane shot, which is
going to hurt somebody one of these days), it's a relentless sense of humor, always in the service of optimizing the struggle, that provides the film its lifeline. But Martin is so eager to please, every idle moment so crammed full of sound and fury, every scene so plucky and energetically
written, that scale and subtlety are all but obliterated. The overkill smells suspiciously of compromise with nervous studio execs. If Columbia and its kind really want to co-opt the bravado and brash tactics of bootstrap filmmakers, they'd be better advised to grant them a bit more freedom.
(Violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: I LIKE IT LIKE THAT is the charming, jam-packed, Latin-driven, attitude-to-burn feature film debut by 24-year-old Darnell Martin, whose pedigree includes NYU film school and a tour of duty with Spike Lee as an assistant camera person. Part of the same high… (more)