There are two tremendously affecting set pieces in this multigenerational saga about a Mexican-American family. In the first, a gang member (Morales) teaches a gaggle of neighborhood kids to mambo on a sunny afternoon and, briefly, life is sweet in East Los Angeles. In the second, it's some 30 years later, and the mambo king has long since been gunned down by police in front of his little brother. That same brother (Smits), now an adult ex-con furious with the world, takes his new wife (Elpidia Carrillo), an illegal Salvadoran immigrant he has grudgingly wed to save from deportation, into his arms for the first time when she plops a boom box on his car and begins teaching him to dance. By song's end, they are strangers no more.
If the rest of the film had the energy and emotional tug of these scenes, it would be great. As it is, My Family is an ambitious, sprawling, uneven but well-intentioned movie that earns points for trying. Smits, though, shows what star power is all about, for the movie perceptibly shifts to higher gear once his character strides onto the screen. (R)