Any Will Ferrell/Adam McKay team-up is worth checking out, and Casa De Mi Padre is no exception. While never hitting the heights as some of their previous efforts, this Spanish language parody of Mexican telenovelas by debut director Matt Piedmont is well-made, full of actors and comedians clearly enjoying themselves, and is unlike any American comedy you’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, it’s just not consistently funny enough to earn itself the mark of a classic, and will probably be remembered for its technical accomplishments and soundtrack rather than its laugh-out-loud moments.
The plot is pretty simple: Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) has lived on his father’s ranch his entire life, happy to be tending to the calves and the land with his two amigos Esteban and Manuel. However, he has long been considered the idiot child of the family and held responsible for his mother’s death. Things come to a head when his successful businessman brother Raul (a constantly aviator shades sporting Diego Luna) returns back home with new bride-to-be Sonia (genuine telenovela star Genesis Rodriguez), and things are revealed to be less straightforward than they seem, as the family become embroiled in a drug war with feared criminal the Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
The entire film is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles (bar a couple of exceptions, and a Kris Kristofferson opening), and yep, this does include Ron Burgundy himself. Ferrell apparently spent a month with a dialect coach perfecting his Spanish language skills, which sound pretty legit to me (though I could be horribly wrong here), and immediately mark this film out as something different.
Ditto the loving recreation of frankly shoddy production values often found in the films and TV shows Casa De Mi Padre is aping. You have obviously painted backgrounds, poor digital effects, laughable continuity errors, and bits where the film itself breaks. Also of note are the Jim Henson puppets which stand in for various dangerous animals, including an ‘amazing’ white mountain lion. Its recreation of low budget aesthetics is a source of much of the film’s fun, and comparable to Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse in attention to detail. Similarly, there’s a surprisingly high amount of violence to be seen here, with gunshots and blood spraying everywhere on occasion.
It’s also a joy to see Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna reunited once again. Forget Ferrell and his linguistics, these two supremely talented actors wildly over-acting and clearly having the best time ever makes the film watchable, and whenever they’re on-screen the movie benefits. Both are simply despicable people, but a hell of a lot of fun with it, too – I would pay good money to see a prequel with the two’s earlier exploits in it.
As the primary villain, Garcia Bernal is a preening and effeminate drug lord, surrounded by luxury and used to getting his way (and some of the best scenes involve his love of Canadian Slims). Luna, meanwhile, is a deranged cross between Pablo Escobar and Tony Montana, and probably by design seems to belong in a totally different movie.
As for Ferrell, well, he’s dependable enough – apart from his non-English turn he’s pretty much the same loveable man-child he always plays, but with the added bonus of a really weird and disturbing bum-focused love scene. I can tell you now that Will Ferrell has a pretty hairy bum crack.
However, while it is clear that ex-Saturday Night Live writer Matt Piedmont is a talented man, his debut is definitely lacking – mainly in comedy. Despite a cracking start with a great opening title sequence, and epic music throughout, beyond how the film actually looks there’s very little in consistently funny humour, with many jokes wide of the mark and the script incredibly scattershot. There are a few chuckles here and there, but nothing side-splittingly funny or even that memorable.
In the end, this really hamstrings the piece, and makes it merely an entertaining curiosity rather than a comedy classic. This is a shame considering the talent involved, and the love lavished on the look of the thing. Casa De Mi Padre represents something of a missed opportunity, then; one which I found myself thinking kindly of because of who was in it, and how much fun they seemed to be having, rather than what they were actually doing or saying.