Rarely do I watch a movie that leaves me truly perplexed. I often have a good sense of what transpired during those two hours, give or take, and don’t really get caught off guard by an ending. But that wasn’t the case when I pressed play on Chasing Papi, the quirky-but-cringe comedy that follows a playboy type across the country as he juggles relationships with three different women.
For those who have managed to escape viewing this film, here’s the gist: Released 20 years ago on April 16, 2003, Chasing Papi follows Tomás Fuentes (Eduardo Verástegui), a marketing executive who somehow finds enough hours in the day to pitch perfumes and date multiple women in multiple time zones simultaneously. First, there’s Cici (Sofía Vergara), a boisterous cocktail waitress from Miami; Patricia Sofia Ordonez Coronado del Pescador (Jaci Velásquez), a New York City debutante with a classically overbearing mother (María Conchita Alonso); and Lorena Morales (Roselyn Sánchez), a shy lawyer from Chicago who’s insecure about her appearance and sexuality.
The main driver of conflict is, of course, the love triangle (or love square? rectangle?) that emerges once the three women inevitably find out about each other. I never watched Chasing Papi the first time around, so I was most curious to see how the filmmakers would depict these women making that major discovery. In the scene, Cici, Patricia, and Lorena had individually traveled to Los Angeles to visit Tomás, each showing up to his house unannounced at the same time. When they think they’re surprising him, they’re actually surprising each other. They open different doors into the same room, each wearing identical lingerie sets that Tomás had gifted them separately (ugh, what a jerk, right?).
What ensues is a hilarious lightbulb moment for the three women, which results in a lot of shrieking, name-calling, insult-hurling, and overall absurdity. It helps that Vergara, Velásquez, and Sánchez are gifted actors with a knack for physical comedy, which is refreshingly on display both in that key scene and throughout the film. It’s no wonder Chasing Papi helped catapult all three of their acting careers.
"Though the dynamic among the women begins with bickering and fighting over a clear loser, its evolution is, admittedly, fun to watch."
Though the dynamic among the women begins with bickering and fighting over a clear loser, its evolution is, admittedly, fun to watch. They get into all sorts of hijinks, beginning with accidentally giving Tomás too much alcohol and tranquilizers so he ends up passed out for a good portion of the movie. Without Tomás being, well, conscious, the women are able to bond in a way that they wouldn’t have if he had been awake the whole time. It’s a pretty bonkers plot device, but as a viewer, you also can’t help but be relieved that the insufferably machismo player isn’t getting any more screen time.
Other notable moments from the movie that might make it a worthwhile nostalgic rewatch include appearances from Christina Vidal — aka Taina to a generation of Latine millennials who grew up with the eponymous teen sitcom on Nickelodeon — who plays a festival singer in the movie. There’s also Ian Gomez (Javier on the WB show Felicity), who has an amusing scene as Tomás’s doctor. It was fun to see familiar faces outside of the roles I most commonly associate them with.
Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the fun starts and stops. Chasing Papi absolutely shows its age, especially in regard to diversity or lack thereof. As a child of the ‘90s and ‘00s, I remember very well what it was like trying to find TV shows or movies with characters who looked like me and my family. We had some classics, like the aforementioned Taina, in addition to others like The Brothers Garcia and Gotta Kick It Up! But what was a handful of shows compared to an entire primetime lineup? All that is to say that I get it. I get why, during that era, it was hard — if not completely unlikely — to secure interest in and funding for Latine-led productions. So we were taught to simply “be grateful” for what little content and entertainment we did get. Chasing Papi would have fit into that category of being something that was better than nothing.
But now, two decades later and with the gift of hindsight, watching this movie was almost borderline painful. Though the characters worked with what they had, they were ultimately all caricatures: Tomás as the oversexed Casanova, Cici as the Latina femme fatale, Patricia as the self-loathing Whitina, and Lorena as “the smart one.” I wanted more multidimensionality for the cast and certainly more diversity overall. From what I could tell, there were no Afro-Latine or openly queer characters. When watching through a 2023 lens, those absences are very loud and impossible to miss.
"Two decades later and with the gift of hindsight, watching this movie was almost borderline painful. Though the characters worked with what they had, they were ultimately all caricatures."
What’s more, the dialogue frequently dove into corny territory, complete with lines like, “Ay, chihuahua!” In one scene, as Tomás walks by, an elderly woman looks at him longingly and asks, “Where was he in ‘44?” Shortly after that, a group of nuns appears and when one sees Tomás, she says, “Sister, is it too late to change my mind?”
Eye roll. Gag. Yuck. In that order!
But back to why the ending had me so perplexed. Well, for starters, all three women let Tomás off the hook waaaaaaay too easily. The bow was wrapped up a little too nicely at the end. The implication is that Cici, Patricia, and Lorena have chosen to take the high road, which doesn’t seem fair given the pure hell that Tomás unleashed with his general foolishness. Not to mention, the ending leaves the door open for him to rebound with the attractive FBI officer Carmen Rivera (Lisa Vidal). Yes, that’s right, in the middle of all this, there was a whole criminal subplot that — surprise! — also made next to no sense.
If you’re just as confused by what Chasing Papi is even about, join the club. I can only recommend watching this movie if you choose to do so ironically, and view it as if it were a piece of camp art. Tbh, that’s the only situation in which this kooky, forgettable film would even be worth checking out.