Casa de mi Padre
Directed by Matt Piedmont
Screenplay by Andrew Steele
Will Ferrell, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Génesis Rodríguez, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., Nick Offerman, Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez
How long is Casa de mi Padre? 84 minutes.
What is Casa de mi Padre rated? R for bloody violence, language, some sexual content and drug use.
Más o menos…
Matt Piedmont, noted Saturday Night Live writer, has teamed up with producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (director and star of Anchorman) for something rather out of the ordinary. Casa de Mi Padre, filmed almost entirely in Spanish, downplays Ferrell’s reputation as a strident madman and places him at the forefront of a half-baked television melodrama. It is not a comedy of consistent quality, but it has a variety of good laughs, both broad and subtle, in its bandoliers.
Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) is the son of a wealthy ranchero, whose first love is his ancestral land. When his shady brother Raul (Diego Luna) arrives at the ranch with beautiful fiancée Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez Pérez) in tow, their ties to the warring drug market signal grave danger for the Alvarez clan. Armando, instantly smitten by Sonia, finds himself swept up in a torrent of guilt, betrayal, and vengeance. The actual plot is inconsequential, merely providing a series of wry set pieces that you may recall from channel-surfing that day you were home sick with the flu.
The makers of Casa de Mi Padre have meticulously assembled the elements of a crummy telenovela, including blatant product placement, stilted dialogue, poor continuity, back-projected driving scenes, illogical character shifts, mannequin extras, animal puppets, and shoddy sets sandwiched between stock footage of sunny Mexican valleys. The writers even put in a throwaway line about people making fun of the way Armando talks. This adequately covers the issue of his labored pronunciation among a cast of clearly fluent Spanish speakers. The reason this parody of a notoriously cheapo genre works at all is that amid all the poking of fun, a slender thread of appreciation for the source material shows through. The dull side of that coin is that the writers and director are free to hide behind the gimmick that the story is supposed to be lame and predictable. That is a dangerous line to walk, unless you plan to make most of your box office dollars from the faithful telenovela set.
Casa de Mi Padre would be nothing without its supporting players, especially Gael García Bernal. As the flamboyant drug lord La Onza, he plays the best comedy villain you or I have seen in a while. The movie really kicks off when he, Armando, and Raul meet in a seedy bar for the first time, and mid-conversation La Onza pulls a bizarre double-cigarette move that somehow announces the arrival of “the funny part” of the movie. That scene is the best one in the film, and leads to a delightful musical number, followed by a tragic wedding which features José Luis Rodríguez, El Puma, performing a strong Spanish rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
Diego Luna, as brother Raul, also deserves special mention. With his over-pomaded hair and permanently attached aviator shades, he is the stereotypical embodiment of a loose-cannon drug lieutenant. And he’s a scream. Even in the midst of a blood-soaked shootout, he takes great pains to keep his drink from spilling or his cigarette from going out. Characters like Raul and La Onza allow their actors to go for it, no matter how ludicrous or insane, and it works.
The scenes not relying directly on Armando are by far the funniest. Luna, García Bernal, and Armando’s two sidekicks (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez) truly grasp the spirit of the project and are ceaselessly entertaining. It is safe to say that they carry everyone else involved.
Another pretty good joke is one of the most obvious. Nick Offerman, playing a corrupt DEA yahoo, delivers his Spanish lines in a contemptuous, unaccented drawl that pretty well approximates a South Texas game warden on a bad day. This is a guy who would no sooner speak Spanish than kiss a snake, except that the daily realities of his job demand it. Naturally, he drags around a nondescript right-hand goon for no apparent reason except to ruin dramatic close-ups with reflections of the film crew in his mirrored sunglasses. This is an example of Casa de Mi Padre when it’s good.
Leaving aside the game work of the supporting cast for a moment, this movie operates on a single joke, and the joke is not so hot. There is little to this film that, say, the “Generalissimo” episode of 30 Rock did not offer more succinctly. This is definitely the weakest of Will Ferrell’s lead characters, and since the point is to play the hero of a badly written romantic drama, there is not much he could have done to improve it. He is probably having a blast, feeling arch and clever about conducting a grand experiment in comedy, but it is simply not funny for more than a few minutes.
Adam McKay’s Anchorman was written at an approximate rate of five thousand jokes per minute. In other words, “If you didn’t laugh at that one, here’s something from a totally different direction!” That is the way Ron Burgundy and his pals charmed basically everyone. Casa de Mi Padre only has one level, and though it scores numerous hits, the center cannot hold. After eighty-four minutes, you will not be begging for more Armando Alvarez. Sorry, San Diego.
Riddle me this — why are the opening titles in English? The flashy sequence introducing the cast, with some blissfully over-the-top warbling by Christina Aguilera, is James Bond good, almost Grindhouse good, but failing to translate the credits into Spanish, with everything else so carefully arranged, points to a lack of commitment. There must have been some legal issue involved, because for all the movie’s flaws, it does not seem like the sort of detail the director would simply have missed.
Casa de Mi Padre lends itself to an easy mathematical breakdown. The first twenty minutes are like a strained TV skit begging, “Please laugh at us!” The middle half hour is absolutely hilarious. The final half hour is… pretty funny, assuming you jumped on board with the second act. Stacking the film in this way may lead to some early walkouts, and if you are truly bored by what you see in the first ten minutes, I am not going to tell you to stick it out. As a forty-five minute comedy special, Casa de Mi Padre would probably be pure gold. However, by trying to get twice the mileage, the responsible parties made a movie only half as good.