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FOOD POISONING

WOMAN ON TOP *

STARRING: Penelope Cruz

DIRECTOR: Fina Torres

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

RATING: R for sexual themes and raw language.

THE LOWDOWN: Beautiful Brazilian chef flees her unfaithful husband and starts over in San Francisco.

Remember "Like Water for Chocolate"?

This is "Like Water for Chocolate for Idiots."

However, since a 13-word review isn't acceptable (A dissent: the single most effective review I ever read was in Musician magazine in 1987, which weighed in thusly on the bloated prog-rock supergroup GTR's latest album: "GTR. SHT."), I will expound briefly.

You have to accept some outlandish things in order to endure this movie, which is about, in no particular order, love, motion sickness, the healing power of food and control:

First, that a young woman who speaks fractured English can land in a city where food is a religion and, without experience or contacts, within a few weeks wind up with a televised cooking show in the nation's fifth largest market.

Second, that a ballad crooned under one's window late at night makes up for the fact that the crooner was caught parking his Welcome Wagon In The Neighbor's Driveway, if you know what we mean.

And three, that supermodels are good enough actresses to carry entire movies.

Famke Janssen almost is, in her current indie "Love and Sex." But for all her luminous, delicate beauty, Penelope Cruz just isn't.

She plays Isabella, a motion-sick Brazilian cook who can only be happy if she controls all her motions (yes, that too, hence the title).

Her macho husband, Toninho, feels controlled and cheats, which leads Isabella to flee to San Francisco and shack up with her transvestite friend Monica (a delectably funny Harold Perrineau Jr., who steals many scenes and helped keep us awake, as all really good drag queens do, bless them).

Isabella becomes famous and gets a TV cooking show. Toninho follows her to the United States. Incantations and offerings to the Brazillian goddess of the sea are made. Chaos ensues.

Certain predictable references to produce are made, and eventually there is a food fight - all of which is backed up by enough bad bossa nova to make Tito Puente spin in his grave.

See it if you want. But we won't blame you for wanting to throw up an arm in the theater and yell "Check, please!"

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