- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Pantelion Films
Reviewed by Bob Westal
f the events of the 19th century had gone differently, the area we now call Hollywood would have been on Mexican land. It seems unlikely that that would have somehow led to an alternate historical timeline in which Will Ferrell would have emerged as a stalwart Spanish-speaking leading man and action star. That, nevertheless, is something like the universe imagined in "Casa de mi Padre," an often very funny but terribly haphazard spoof of low-budget south of the border pop culture.
Presented in fabulous Mexicoscope, "House of My Father" (para los gringos) stars Ferrell as heroic, virtuous and completely non-self-aware lifelong ranch hand Armando Alvarez. Armando is full of appropriate filial piety towards his none-too-admiring father (Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.). Too good for sibling rivalry, Armando is thrilled by the return of the more favored brother, Raul (Diego Luna). Naturally, he also keeps his long suppressed heterosexuality in check at the sight of Raul's lovely fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodríguez). When the (presumably) younger and (definitely) shorter Alvarez brother turns out to be up-to-his-ears in the drug trade, family loyalty trumps Armando's morality. He must resist U.S. law enforcement and fight Raul's even suaver and nastier rival, the super-narco they call "la Onza" (Gael Garcia Bernal).
"Casa de mi Padre" has so much going for it that I almost wonder why I'm giving it a mixed review. First-time feature director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele clearly have some affection for the telenovelas, Mexican actioners, and American Mexploitation knock-offs they are taking on and, crucially, there are more good jokes than bad ones.
Better yet, Will Farrell plays Armando Alvarez as straight as a churro and as florid as a pitcher of bad sangria. It's almost certainly the best spoof film leading man performance since Michael Jai White's tour de force as "Black Dynamite." It's also easy to admire the hardworking but far from fluent Ferrell's successful determination to do a role in, by all accounts, highly credible Spanish.
The rest of the cast very nearly matches Farrell's unparallelled comic commitment, despite the fact that many of them are far less experienced in this kind of broad comedy. Pan-American heartthrobs Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna – onscreen nemeses but real life BFFs – get many of the film's biggest laughs knowingly spoofing ultra-confident Latino bad guys/smoothies. Miami-born second-generation telenovela star turned U.S. starlet Génesis Rodríguez shows the proper grim seriosity as the romantically conflicted heroine. Poignantly enough, our "Padre" here is second generation Mexican-American screen legend Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., who passed away last December and lends the film an air of cheesy authority. Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation," obviously no stranger to broad comedy, brings plenty of bite to his role as a bigoted DEA agent.
Best of all, there's plenty of comic inspiration on hand. Much humor is mined from the now dying trope of onscreen smoking. Armando is plagued by a complete inability to properly roll his own cigarettes Western-hero style, so that the tobacco keeps falling out before he can take his first drag. In one crucial scene, the villainous la Onza shows us the proper way to smoke two cigarillos at once. (Take that, Paul Heinreid in "Now Voyager"!)
The topic of the moral responsibility of los Estados Unidos for the Mexican drug trade, and the all-too-real and horrifying drug wars that go on in its wake, is brought up in a scene of brilliantly sustained Yanqui-bashing between Will Ferrell and Diego Luna. I'm sure right-wing film bloggers will complain, but I can't hear drug-using hipster Americans being described by a deadly serious Ferrell as "shit eating crazy monster babies" without laughing my culo off.
However, as I've already more than hinted at, all is not bien in "Casa de mi Padre." Despite a short running time and plenty of action, this is a movie that feels much longer than it is. It would probably take multiple viewings to figure out the problem, but there is obviously a pacing and/or subtle story issue here.
I'm also docking a half star for one brief flashback in which a very young Armando accidentally does something very, very bad. Maybe I'm overly sensitive but, for me, the horrific nature of the moment lingered, spoiling the fun for perhaps 10 minutes of screen time in a movie which doesn't have that kind of time to lose. I couldn't even really find the theoretical joke in the scene. At 84 minutes, "Casa" is not a long movie, but it might have played much better at 83.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Lionsgate has assembled a decent collection of bonus material for the “Casa de mi Padre” Blu-ray, including an entertaining audio commentary by director Matt Piedmont, writer Andrew Steele and star Will Ferrell, a 15-minute making-of featurette dominated by cast interviews, a hefty assortment of deleted scenes, and a short interview with actor Pedro Armendariz Jr., who unfortunately passed away shortly after filming.