(by Dustin Putman
Now here is an unusual little number, a Spanish-language spoof of achingly sincere, riotously overwrought telenovelas that also seems to be having fun at the expense of '70s grindhouse cinema, bad westerns, and generally any film with poor production values and inept directing. The exclamation point on top of it all is Will Ferrell (2010's "The Other Guys"), front and center—and speaking at least mildly fluent Spanish—as the story's under-appreciated, lanky-legged hero. "Casa de mi Padre" was directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele (2000's "The Ladies Man"), the team not surprisingly behind "Funny or Die," and what jokes the film misses the mark on it is sure to make up for with a much funnier gag coming right around the corner. And hey, if it all tends to lose steam by the end, take comfort in its flash of an 84-minute running time that knows there's nothing more deflating than a comedy that overstays its welcome. As featherweight and inconsequential as the proceedings tend to be, this is one trifle that sticks around and is best remembered in hindsight. That could very well be enough to make it a cult hit in the making. Article continues below
Armando (Will Ferrell) is the black sheep of the Alvarez family, still living with his widowed father Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) and constantly being unfavorably compared to his brother Raul (Diego Luna). On the same day that Armando and friends Esteban (Efren Ramirez) and Manuel (Adrian Martinez) spy on a man being shot in the desert at the hands of drug kingpin The Onza (Gael García Bernal), Raul shows up with luscious bride-to-be Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). Armando is instantly smitten, but has bigger troubles on his hands when he learns that Raul is a drug dealer himself. When he crosses The Onza, one thing is for sure: none of the extended Alvarez clan are safe—and that includes the visiting Sheila from Atlanta (Molly Shannon). This is Armando's one shot to prove that he's not a screw-up.
"Casa de mi Padre" is as loopy as movies get while still keeping a straight face, and that is part of its appeal. By treating the story, the characters, the relationships, and the laughably on-the-nose dialogue seriously, it allows the absurdist humor to shine through all the more. Miguel's blunt labeling of son Armando as a failure is so straightforward that it goes beyond harsh into comedic territory again. Following a spot of trouble where Sonia gets little help mounting a horse, her and Armando's leisurely ride plays riotously on multiple levels. As she spills out a tragic story from the past, Armando's only response is to keep saying, "Interesante." Meanwhile, it is blatantly clear that they are in a studio on fake horses, their movements across the screen smooth and fluid when it naturally should be bumpy.
From there, director Matt Piedmont continues to toss anything he can think of up on the screen, just as long as it's suitably and intentionally foolish. An establishing shot of a truck pulling into a parking spot in town is done with small-scale toy models. The music score comes and goes abruptly. There are jump cuts, daffily fake sets, a villainous white tiger who is as realistic as a stuffed bear, a cliffhanger that melodramatically fades to black as if switching to a commercial break, and a wedding bloodbath that flies freely past over-the-top into a realm of patently farcical surrealism. The Onza lights one cigarette, then another, taking turns smoking them with both hands as an intense run-in with Raul plays out. In contrast, the bumbling Armando can never seem to roll his own cigarettes, the tobacco falling out of the paper before he's had a chance to light it. Oh, and let's not forget the flashback to Armando's shameful childhood; in trying to save his beloved mom (Sandra Echeverría) from dangerous thieves, he accidentally shot her dead himself. Perhaps that's why his father still holds a grudge.
"Casa de mi Padre" is plainly stupid and yet immensely clever all at once. It also runs out of energy before the shoot-'em-up climax and holds a spotty record of what works and what doesn't (a never-ending campfire sing-along undoubtedly falls in the latter). If the film doesn't amount to more than just a check-your-brain-at-the-door good time, that's honestly all that its makers were probably going for. It's a charade and a lark, and leading the way is Will Ferrell in a comically inspired performance that may rank as one of his very best. As the fair lady he comes to love, Genesis Rodriguez (2012's "Man on a Ledge") is luminous in her own right with a gift for dry humor that never gives away she knows how funny she is. Wide audiences might not know what to make of "Casa de mi Padre" at first, but rest assured it will grow on all but the most sour of souls. It's difficult to resist a movie, after all, that shares the same common DNA as "Mystery Science Theater 3000."