You don’t necessarily have to have ever seen a Mexican soap opera (aka Telenovela) or low-budget Spanish film to get the big joke behind Will Ferrell’s latest film, but it certainly helps. Casa de Mi Padre is a gleefully dopey spoof of the in-real-life gleefully over-the-top TV serials and films that occasionally works but will more than likely will only appeal to those with a very specific sense of humour (in other words: those who can’t stomach Will Ferrell movies need not apply).
Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, the quixotic, cowardly son of wealthy ranch owner Pedro Armendariz Jr., a tyrant of a man who makes it known that he prefers his other son, Raul (Diego Luna), over Armando even despite the fact that Raul is a drug dealer (and also kind of a douche). Armando has worked on the ranch for his entire life and truly loves the place, that’s why it’s especially gutting for him when the family falls on hard financial times.
The family turns to the slick Raul who returns home with the intention of taking over the local drug trade, bringing along his beautiful fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), who as it turns out, is the “stolen property” of a rival drug dealer named Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). It also doesn’t help that Sonia soon turns her considerable, ahem, affections towards the dumb-but-passionate Armando.
As the film heads towards its inevitable big showdown, there’s much frenzied eyebrow-raising between brothers, much butchered Spanish and much beating of a dead horse where the film’s central joke is concerned. Even an appearance by the great Nick Offerman (TV’s Parks and Recreation) as a bloodthirsty U.S. D.E.A. agent can’t help the film from feeling like a Saturday Night Live sketch that’s gone on way too long. Furthermore, the film continually gets bogged down in its own earnestness, dragging for long periods of time through the banal and rather derivative plot.
There’s no doubt that Ferrell is to be admired for having the cojones to do a Spanish-language comedy (especially since Ferrell only studied the language in high school and college but was far from fluent before signing on for the role.), but the simple fact is that the concept of Casa de Mi Padre would play out much better and gain much more comedy mileage if it were presented in trailer form on Ferrell’s Funny or Die website rather than in its current feature length state.
Much like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s stab at recreating the magic of Grindhouse cinema a few years back, Casa de Mi Padre is replete with missing footage, flubbed lines and inadvertent appearances from crew members in the frame. Some of it works – a few running sigh gags, throwaway bits involving terribly faked horseback riding or gratuitous split-screens – but most of it has been well-covered, and more perceptibly so, in the spoof movies that have preceded it (if you haven’t already, check out the near perfect send-up of blaxploitation films, Black Dynamite).
Unfortunately for Casa de Mi Padre there’s a very fine line between smart-stupid and slapdash-stupid. Ferrell and the gang attempt to compensate for their undercooked idea with one too many self-satisfied wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments that are supposedly in jokes for those who “get it.” Newsflash boys: in the words of Armando’s father: “If you were truly smart, you’d know that you are dumb.”