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Slight but oh-so charming, this midlife divertissement sways to a sensuous samba beat.

Gal from Ipanema

Bossa Nova," Bruno Barreto's new romantic comedy, has lots of things going for it, not the least of which are sweeping glimpses of Rio de Janeiro, a terrific rhythmic soundtrack and an attempt to create a credible love story for characters old enough to be the parents of most moviegoers. Part romance, part '30s screwball comedy, this riff on love after 40 is delightful if not exactly perfection.

What "The Thomas Crown Affair" did for Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, "Bossa Nova" almost accomplishes for Amy (Mrs. Barreto) Irving and her co-star, veteran Brazilian leading man Antonio Fagundes. Both Irving and Fagundes perform with a beguiling ease, seeming completely comfortable in their roles. It's a good thing that the two are so at home inside their characters, since it's their flirtation that lies at the heart of Barreto's romantic roundelay. Juggling a half-dozen interconnected plotlines is no easy feat, and Barreto nearly succeeds.

Unfortunately, the script lacks the necessary nutty magic that could have made "Bossa Nova's" subplots and farcical complications fall into place and propel the plot forward. As charming and interesting as these secondary characters are, without the right mix of story and individual development, they just seem to get in the way of the budding romance between Irving and Fagundes.

Irving plays fortysomething American Mary Ann Simpson, who's in Rio teaching English as a foreign language. Fagundes is Pedro Paulo, a Rio lawyer whose unfaithful wife (Debra Bloch) has left him for a tai chi instructor. When the movie begins, it's two years after the death of Mary Ann's husband, a pilot she met while working as a stewardess. Coming out of her grief slowly, Mary Ann has pretty much written off her chances for romance. Not that she hasn't caught anyone's eye, of course. One of her private pupils, champion soccer player Acacio (Alexandre Borges), makes a game attempt to be teacher's pet and even brags to a wary Pedro that he's enjoying some hot and heavy extracurricular activity with "Miss Simpson." But the impulsive soccer player soon sets his sights elsewhere. Pedro, however, is still intrigued and plots to meet Mary Ann by signing up for one of her English classes even though he's quite proficient in the language.

While his interest and flirtation grows, Mary Ann gets caught up in the virtual affair of another student. Starry-eyed Nadine (Drica Moraes) claims she's found the man of her dreams in an Internet chat room. Practical as any traditional schoolmarm, Mary Ann refuses to look for love online, declaring that if and when she finds love again, she wants a real-life experience, not some cyber fantasy.

As Nadine and Acacio, Pedro's estranged wife and even his much-divorced father pursue passion and true love, "Bossa Nova" intertwines all their hopes and hearts. Although the entire movie moves to a sensuous samba beat, once all the complications are in place, Barreto starts to build toward the madcap climax. Set in a hospital emergency room, mixed signals and mistaken identities fuel Barreto's comic conclusion.

In this, her second movie collaboration with husband Barreto, Irving is delightful. She hasn't seemed to enjoy a role this much since her equally charming "Crossing Delancey" a dozen years ago. Co-star Fagundes has the less showy role, but makes the most of it. He portrays suave as if it were a genetic trait rather than some learned response. But he also brings a sly sense of fun to the role, giving us just a hint of why Mary Ann might forsake her self-avowed celibacy. Their romance doesn't ever appear to be written in the stars, and so we sit in the audience and hope. Though not nearly as wonderful as one might yearn for it to be, "Bossa Nova" is a sweet and sexy runner-up. And then there's that wonderful soundtrack. Dedicated to bossa-nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim, the movie is peppered with his dreamy, sexy songs. If you have any heart at all, you'll leave "Bossa Nova" with a smile on your face, humming a Jobim standard.

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