Bella **

20071026_inq_srabel26-b
Tammy Blanchard, a waitress, and Eduardo Verástegui, a soccer star turned chef, skip work to ponder their problems at the beach.

With Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez and Ali Landry. Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 1 hour, 31 mins. PG-13 (adult themes) Playing at area theaters.

There are a few things to like about Bella, a New York City-set indie that's gained some attention on the festival circuit.

Eduardo Verástegui, playing a soccer star whose career is derailed by tragedy, is moody and handsome as a sad soul who works as the chef in his brother's high-end Manhattan restaurant. Said eatery's bustling kitchen and its seductive Mexican cuisine are likewise presented with spice (literally, figuratively) and flair.

But what are you going to do when your lead actress offers a performance that's as unlikable as the woman she's portraying? Maybe it's the script (flimsy, formulaic), or filmmaker Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's conspicuous direction, but Tammy Blanchard's Nina, a waitress with a dour disposition and an unwanted pregnancy, pretty much sucks the life out of this well-meaning melodrama. Which is ironic, given the film's aggressive pro-life stance.

Bella isn't a romance, even as Blanchard and Verástegui's characters duck out of work, dine in cafes, stroll the city's sidewalks and take a subway to the beach. The voice-over that begins this earnest but awkward affair goes, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." That's what Bella tries to get at: the unexpected turns life can take, and how the choices one makes can impact the future of others. But the choices made by the filmmakers have an impact, too.

- Steven Rea