Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) is a simple man. A rancher on the land of his father (Miguel Ernesto played by Pedro Armendariz Jr.), Alvarez and his friends Esteban (Efren Ramirez) and Manuel (Adrian Martinez) tend to the cattle, ride around in a pickup truck, and live a fairly idyllic life in the beautiful countryside. All this changes when Armando’s brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns from the big city with his beautiful girlfriend Sophia (Genesis Rodriguez).
You see, Raul is the brains of the family, which is why he’s got money, power, and arm candy. Of course, one doesn’t go from being the son of a rancher to a guy wearing expensive suits overnight. At least, you don’t do it honestly. Raul is in some shady business, and his return to the family ranch isn’t exactly to show off his new lady. Raul also has a powerful enemy, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Onza has what Raul wants, and vice versa.
This conflict between the two puts Armando and the Alvarez ranch right in the middle of a war. Drug dealers, armed gangsters, police, and American DEA agents will all be playing a part. If that sounds like a volatile mix, that’s because it is. Let the lead fly and the bodies fall like rain.
You have to give all the credit in the world to the production team behind Casa de mi Padre. They absolutely nail the look of 70s low budget cinema, be it Mexican or otherwise. The amount of detail put into making this film look cheap is staggering when you consider it. Everything from the pond set with the obvious (but very good-looking) matte painting and the rear projected truck drives to the white tiger puppet created by the Jim Henson Company and the stuffed horse race, has been perfectly emulated from the period. Even the film stock looks slightly cheap and scratchy, without too much obvious digital trickery.
Of course, a lot of these things have already been done in Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse films, such as missing scenes and whatnot. One of the cut scenes was accompanied by a pretty funny explanatory text crawl in English, which was fun. Of course, some of the other things, like unusual line readings, crew members caught in background shots (or in reflections in the scene) are akin to things done in another of my personal favorite old movie spoofs, Black Dynamite. All the credit possible goes to director Matt Piedmont (Funny or Die Presents…) for getting the movie to look right, but also look good. There are some beautiful shots of desert scrub and sky, and the telenovela filming style (extreme close-ups, lots of reaction shots, lots of zooming in and out) is replicated perfectly.
The whole of Casa feels a bit like Mexican Black Dynamite, and that’s a good thing. It works because the movie keeps its tone serious throughout, without winking at the camera. Even when the script (from SNL vet Andrew Steele) gets a little strange, or the scenes get goofy, the cast handles it completely straight.
Of course, it’s easy to do that when you’ve got great actors like Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, as well as veteran comic actors like Will Ferrell, Efren Ramirez, and Nick Offerman. I was unfamiliar with Genesis Rodriguez, but she’s absolutely stunning (which is the main requirement for any telenovela lead actress), and she’s got good timing and delivery. Will Ferrell spent a month with a Spanish dialogue coach to learn his lines, and his delivery is very good. Perhaps too good to really be really funny.
That said, while the cast is good and the movie is technically proficient, it just simply doesn’t hit the notes consistently enough or big enough to really get as many laughs as it could have yielded.
Part of this might be my lack of familiarity with telenovelas and 70s Mexican cinema, and part of it might be the fact that the script has a good idea, but doesn’t really have meat enough to fill up 84 minutes of run time.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan enjoyed Casa de mi Padre, but it really made him want to watch Black Dynamite again. Black Dynamite is pretty much the best spoof movie since Top Secret. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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