Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) is but a humble Mexican rancher, unlucky in love and only his father’s second favorite son after Raul (Diego Luna). When the latter comes home bearing an Escalade and a smoking hot fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), it’s easy to see why Armando is considered the greater disappointment, but Raul’s homecoming brings with it trouble involving notorious drug dealer La Onza (Gael García Bernal), leaving the family’s black sheep to rise to the occasion.
More grindhouse than glorified telenovela, Matt Piedmont’s “Casa de mi Padre” is a gentle goof, a distinctly minor entry in Ferrell’s proudly irreverent career. Making their feature debut, director Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele each boast a background in writing for “Saturday Night Live” and Funny Or Die so the inevitable accusations of Casa resembling an overly long sketch comedy do have some merit. At 84 minutes, the film comes close to overstaying its welcome, but is moderately amusing for much of that duration.
Flagrant fakery is par for the course. A flimsy opening logo suggests that the production was shot in “Mexico-Scope,” the same rear projection footage is recycled for all driving scenes, and there is no shortage of sloppy reel changes and continuity errors. Actors bang into shoddy backdrops when they’re not riding astride mock horses, and the crew is readily apparent when reflected in close-ups. However, one gag that doesn’t go half-assed is arguably the film’s primary raison d’être: Ferrell speaks passable Spanish throughout, holding his ground opposite a cast of Mexican and Mexican-American professionals without ever dropping the pretense. (It’s left to “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, as a huffy DEA agent, to grill the lead as to whether or not he “speaks American” before offering forth his amusingly strained articulation of the language.)
The tone remains similarly tongue-in-cheek, with coy anti-American sentiment sneaking into conversation, characters finishing their drinks in a hail of gunfire and a whole lot of nonsense involving the rolling and smoking of cigarettes. Mannequins are subtly planted around a dinner table or to fill a wedding reception, while more blatantly apparent in the midst of a fireside sex scene. Save for the inclusion of very modern cars, the set design tends to be decked out in gauche ‘70s furniture and technology to match the film’s willfully grungy and dated aesthetic. In the vein of hazily-shot Spanish-language soaps, Piedmont favors extreme close-ups of darting eyes and over-the-shoulder split shots in which the listener always turns away from the speaker for maximum melodramatic effect.
The ensemble is equally committed to the comedy at hand, no matter how ridiculous it gets. When life-long friends and co-stars Luna and Bernal have their first meeting on screen, it comes complete with the winking exchange: “You know very well who I am, and I know very well who you are.” Rodriguez is every bit the requisite sexpot, a bit more comfortable around her leading man’s exaggerated antics than she proved to be when faced with the straight-faced silliness of “Man on a Ledge” earlier this year. As for Ferrell, the language barrier doesn’t stop him being a familiar sort of doofus, more kind-hearted than mean-spirited this time out and as equally prone to shirtlessness here as he is in English-language vehicles. To paraphrase the beloved Ron Burgundy’s bud Brian Fantana, sixty percent of the time, Ferrell’s schtick works every time.
However, for every laughably excised coyotes-on-cocaine sequence, we get a dud of a drugged-out vision quest, and for every Christina Aguilera theme song (yes, really), we get a handful of shruggable campfire serenades. “Casa de mi Padre” is the kind of film whose idea of a post-credits tag – and this hardly seems like a spoiler – is having Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty stand beside a stuffed bear as he hocks a fictional brand of smokes. It’s more why-not than ha-ha, which is a handy summation of both the film’s own primary appeal and its chief shortcoming. [C+]