'Casa De Mi Padre' ReviewMatt Singer |
I'm not sure what's more surprising: that 'Casa De Mi Padre' isn't funny or that it isn't really trying to be funny. The only "joke" here is the film itself -- one long put-on about Will Ferrell pretending to be a Latino heartthrob in a mostly straight-faced and entirely under-funded Mexican melodrama about cattle ranchers fighting drug dealers. Beyond a few winking nods to Ferrell's country of origin and 'Casa''s intentionally low-fi aesthetic, this is more a playful homage than a blistering satire (think 'Grindhouse,' not 'Anchorman'). Ferrell's presence at the center of it all makes this one of the most admirably strange movies by a major Hollywood star in recent memory, though not an entirely satisfying one.
Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a simple ranchero -- "dumb" in the eloquent parlance of his father -- whose life is thrown into turmoil when his brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns to the family farm with two new loves: his fiance (Genesis Rodriguez) and his drug habit. The local narcotraficante (Gael Garcia Bernal) does not take kindly to the possibility of new competition in the cocaine business, instigating a war between the dealers and the Alvarez clan that sparks numerous betrayals and even more numerous slow-motion gunfights.
There are a couple hilarious running gags -- Armando is constantly rolling cigarettes that are too poorly made to smoke -- and at least one brilliantly weird sex scene involving repeated lingering close-ups of Ferrell's hairy ass -- but not many. Other than the fact that he's speaking Spanish the whole time (and occasionally flashing his rear), Ferrell plays things mostly straight. But as brilliant on a meta level as the idea of an all-Spanish Will Ferrell production is, in practice, the conceit actually works against the comedy. If you're busy reading subtitles, you can't watch (or laugh at) Ferrell's marvelously expressive face. And forcing him to speak a language he doesn't actually know means Ferrell can't improvise either. His accent's pretty good, though, such as it is.
Written and directed by former 'Saturday Night Live' writers Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, 'Casa De Mi Padre' is an impossibly sincere goof, more interested in aping schlock than mocking it. Affectionate winks to bad rear projection and obviously fake talking animals suggest Steele, Piedmont, and Ferrell are admirers of the genre they've co-opted, though said genre will be so obscure for most audience members that many of the references are sure to go over people's heads.
On some level, you have to admire the sheer cojones of Piedmont's antagonistic approach; 'Casa' is so borderline avant-garde it makes 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' look like a Kate Hudson romantic comedy in comparison. But if Ferrell and company were really going to make a paean to cheapo Latino cinema disguised as a bold anti-comedy then they should have gone the whole way and gotten rid of every single joke in the film. As it stands, 'Casa De Mi Padre' has just enough gags to occasionally break the illusion that you're watching a bizarre, forgotten import, but not enough to qualify as a worthwhile comedy.