With Casa de mi Padre, Will Ferrell has entered the baroque phase of his career, where he realizes he can do whatever the hell he wants. (And he can; his co-ownership of FunnyorDie.com has made him one of Hollywood’s wealthiest people. Crazy but true.) So if he wants to do a comedy where 98 percent of the dialogue is in Spanish, it will come to pass. This patch on Mexican soap operas is perhaps a harbinger of greater things, pointing the way for future inroads by Hollywood into the underserved Latino audiences. As a comedy, though, it doesn’t offer much beyond its novelty value.
Ferrell portrays Armando Álvarez, son of a prosperous Mexican cattle rancher (played by the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.), whose quiet life is upended when his favored brother Raúl (Diego Luna) returns home with a stunning fiancée named Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), whom Armando instantly covets and distrusts in equal measure. His distrust is warranted, because both Raúl and Sonia are mixed up with the local drug kingpin, La Onza (Gael García Bernal). Soon Armando must take up arms to keep his ranch, his family, and, yes, his father’s house from falling into the hands of the evil narcotraficante.
[pullquote_right]Casa de mi Padre is evidence that Will Ferrell is casting about for fresh ideas rather than coasting on his fame…[/pullquote_right]Written and directed by two former Saturday Night Live writers who worked with Ferrell on the show, the movie parodies Mexican films from the 1970s and ’80s. The bargain-basement production values feature obviously painted backdrops standing in for natural scenery and one of the most patently fake animatronic jaguars you’ll ever see. The script is full of telenovela-style melodrama and purposefully bad Spanish dialogue, and the actors flare their nostrils before practically every line reading. There’s even an Alexandro Jodorowsky-inspired acid freakout, as well as a note from the second assistant cameraman apologizing to the audience for a sequence missing from the film. (“Did the tigers get into the cocaine? Yes. Was it a bad idea to have drugs on the same set with live animals? Yes. Did several crew members get eaten? Yes.”)
Here’s the real question: Is it funny? Yeah, sometimes. A few of the gags score, such as Armando’s attempt to get Sonia, who’s no horsewoman, up into a saddle. The friction between the nature-loving Armando and the citified Sonia is good for a few laughs. (“There are no fine shops for you here!” he says. “This isn’t Dallas!”) The movie’s musical interludes also spice things up, including the fiery mariachi theme song over the opening credits (sung by Christina Aguilera) and a ranchera-influenced number for Armando and his ranch-hand buddies (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez) called “Yo No Sé.”
The film never finds a consistent groove, though, and the genre parody eventually wears thin. Extraneous plots involving a corrupt cop (Manuel Urrego) and an arrogant DEA agent (Nick Offerman) don’t add much. Talented though Luna and García Bernal are, they never look comfortable hamming it up in the way this movie requires, even if García Bernal has an amusing bit as he tries to look menacing while smoking two cigarettes at once. By contrast, Ramirez and Martinez are natural comedians who fit into this environment much better.
The climactic shootout at La Onza’s estate is a missed opportunity to transcend the limits of the joke. Where great pastiche artists like Stephen Chow or Edgar Wright would have used the hijinks to set up an authentically great action sequence, director Matt Piedmont only uses the shootout as a forum for more gags — one character riddled with bullets stops to finish his cigarette and his Scotch before falling down and dying. I’m afraid Robert Rodriguez beat this movie to the punch by more than a decade: His Desperado and more recent Machete send up the crappy aspects of old Mexican cinema while still capturing its energy and bringing it to a wider audience. Casa de mi Padre is evidence that Will Ferrell is casting about for fresh ideas rather than coasting on his fame, but it’s still an intriguing misstep.
Casa de mi Padre
Starring Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, and Gael García Bernal. Directed by Matt Piedmont. Written by Andrew Steele. Rated R.