Despite its modern setting and undercurrents of social problems, MANHATTAN MERENGUE is, at heart, a goofy 1940s showbiz fantasy featuring the cheesiest song-and-dance numbers since STAYING ALIVE (1983).
In the Dominican Republic, frustrated Miguel Romero (George Perez), dreams of becoming a Broadway star. After his pal Tito (Abdiel Gonzalez) dies in shark-infested waters trying to enter the US, Miguel makes his own attempt. In Puerto Rico, with the help of transplanted Italian Carmelo (Marco
Leonardi), he slips through customs and flies to Manhattan.
Instead of immediate stardom, Miguel instead finds subsistence jobs and cheap lodgings at a boarding house run by immigrant duena Dona Cruzita (Iraida Polanco). Luck smiles on Miguel when he lands a janitorial job at a rundown dance studio operated by former Broadway chorine Susan Kelly (Alyson
Reed). He also rescues Rosita (Lumi Cavazos), who survived the ocean passage that killed her brother Tito; she is working at a brothel where she's about to be deflowered. Shortly after telling Miguel that he sneaked into America to find his love child from a deceased Puerto Rican emigree, Carmelo
is gunned down when agents of Immigration and Naturalization Services invade Dona Cruzita's house.
On the run from the INS themselves, Rosita and Miguel begin an eventually successful search to find and adopt Carmelo's son. Miguel impresses Susan with his sensual dancing, but also provokes the jealousy of her staff instructor, Rudy (Ed Trucco), who threatens to turn him in to the INS. Susan
arranges an audition that could give Miguel artist-in-residence status. Complications arise when Rosita suspects Susan has a hidden romantic agenda and when Rudy snitches to INS men. Allowed to attend the audition by agents guilt-stricken over Carmelo's death, Miguel struts his way into
citizenship by obtaining a job as a dancer. He marries Rosita and eventually finds stardom on Broadway.
Big-budget Hollywood musicals may be moribund, but the tacky spirit of their poverty row relatives has been reborn in MANHATTAN MERENGUE. Even without tweaking the plot details, the above synopsis reads like a parody. MANHATTAN MERENGUE milks tears about the plight of immigrants at every
opportunity, but plays at the reality level of a "Lawrence Welk Show" salute to the Dominican Republic. Not since Rita Moreno's mega-spitfire performance in SUMMER AND SMOKE (1961) has there been such a display of Hispanic hamminess. And Miguel's dance skills, which are supposed to propel him to
the level of Gregory Hines or Savion Glover overnight, wouldn't get him into the back row of a Vegas revue entitled "Latin from Manhattan." (Violence, extreme profanity, adult situations, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Despite its modern setting and undercurrents of social problems, MANHATTAN MERENGUE is, at heart, a goofy 1940s showbiz fantasy featuring the cheesiest song-and-dance numbers since STAYING ALIVE (1983). In the Dominican Republic, frustrated Miguel Romero… (more)