Casa de Mi Padre is the most tedious film of its kind since MacGruber – a strained effort that has little to go on apart from its one-joke premise, namely a Spanish-language American production that parodies Mexican telenovelas. When it had finally gone through all of its eighty-four minutes (which, by all accounts, is a very short running time), I had the unshakable feeling that the exact same story could have been told as a five-minute Saturday Night Live skit, one that might not have been funnier but at least would not have its visual and verbal gags stretched beyond the breaking point. Watching this movie plod through its tiresome, repetitive, and occasionally self-referential scenes is a little like trying to drive cross-country on only a quarter tank of gas.
It could be that I’m not the right person to review this movie. As someone who hasn’t seen a single telenovela, from Mexico or any other Latin American country, I probably failed to notice the ways in which their plot devices were satirized in Casa de Mi Padre. Having said that, I did catch onto several non-cultural, non-genre specific cinematic spoofs, including intentional continuity errors, grainy film stock, fluctuating colors, a copyright date of 1970, and a shot that obviously utilizes toy cars and model streets. We also have a phony-looking puppet of a white tiger (manufactured by The Jim Henson Workshop, no less), who will eventually guide the lead character on a psychedelic spiritual quest. And then there’s the moment when the film pauses, at which point the assistant director narrates his own written statement in Spanish. He asked the audience not to tell anyone about it, but what can I say? I’m a blabbermouth.
Taking place in Mexico, it tells the story of Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell), who has lived and worked his entire life on a ranch owned by his father (the late Pedro Armendariz, Jr.). Despite Armando’s loyalty and strong work ethic, Senor Alvarez favors his younger son, Raul (Diego Luna), who returns home with his fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriquez). Unbeknownst to his father, Raul has become successful smuggling drugs to Americans. Unbeknownst to Raul, Armando is falling for Sonia. This comes after Armando gives a dramatic speech about his ideal woman, who he has not yet been able to find up until now. It will soon be up to Armando to save his father’s ranch from falling into the hands of a ruthless drug lord named Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
Part of the problem is that far too much time is spent on character quirks that, despite being meaningless, are exploited ad nauseam. Some of them involve smoking. There is, for example, Armando’s inability to hand roll his own cigarettes. Then there’s Onza, who’s almost never seen without a brown-papered Canadian slim in his mouth. In one scene, he lights up two cigarettes, one for each hand; in specific shots, he will have both of them dangling from his mouth as if no one is the wiser. Some of the later scenes blend physical comedy with unremitting violence. During the final shootout, for example, Raul dodges bullets while simultaneously holding a glass of booze in his hand and occasionally taking sips from it. A lot of people get shot in this movie, and blood sprays from gaping wounds as bodies flail around like ragdolls. It’s all captured in agonizing slow motion, as if the filmmakers were recreating a scene from a Sam Peckinpah film.
I suppose the real joke here is that a white actor is playing a Hispanic role, which is to say that Ferrell bears no resemblance to the men playing his father and brother (he does do a decent job with the theatrical delivery of his lines, although I’m hard pressed to say he could get through actual conversational Spanish). The idea is admittedly amusing, but it’s not the side-splitting inspired comedy the ads have been making it out to be, and it hardly seems worthy of a film nearly an hour and a half long. After a while, it becomes stale and monotonous. Given the obvious nature of the comedy, Ferrell might as well have been wearing a sign around his neck saying, “Look at me! I’m a gringo speaking Spanish for a comedy film!”
We bear witness to several other odd plot elements. These include an opening theme song sung James Bond-style by Christina Aguilera, a campfire song about a rancher who knows absolutely nothing except in matters of love and land, an easy-listening Spanish pop music video played during the end credits, and a post-credits faux commercial for a brand of cigarettes – which, incidentally, is spoken in English. Is any of this a fitting homage to real telenovelas? I have absolutely no idea. I can only go by what I saw in the film. And on that basis, Casa de Mi Padre is thin on premise and even thinner on laughs, its sense of humor stretched to the point of snapping in two. Had it been brought to life as a brief sketch comedy vignette, it probably would have been much more enjoyable.
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