Rudo y Cursi

Most modern-day sports movies carry more clichés than any other genre in the Hollywood system today. Two rivals square off. One plays for the underdog while the other plays for the heavy favorite. The little guy (or his team) goes through extensive training, mental/spiritual growth, or gains some key players before unseating the reigning champ in an ultra dramatic final showdown that always comes down to one…final…play.

Oh, and there is usually a girl involved. Rudo y Cursi, the latest film from writer/director Carlos Cuaron, involves all of these ideas, but tries ever so slightly to turn them on their respective heads. However, it takes a good 85-minutes to do so.

We first meet brothers Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) as banana pickers working and living in Mexico with their large family. They both dream of bigger things. Tato wants to be a professional singer and his brother yearns to play soccer on the country’s biggest stage. Luckily for both of them, a talent scout spots the pair in a local match and wants to help both of them sign with the pros. Unfortunately, he can only take one of them.

Without giving too much away, Tato wins the spot and goes on to become a major soccer star (earning the nickname Cursi from an impressed public) while Beto waits in the wings for his time to come. Eventually, both end up on the professional circuit, but they still face old vices in their newfound fame and fortune. Beto (now known as Rudo) is a serious gambling addict. Cursi still wants to be a singer, but his talent on stage doesn’t equal his flair on the field.

It all sounds fairly familiar, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Cuaron’s latest uses every sports cliché in the book, including the final showdown between rival competitors. However, like most clever filmmakers working within an established genre, he manages to tweak the formula just enough to make it seem slightly more original.

Primarily, the brotherly bond (or lack thereof) between Tato and Beto is an intriguing dynamic throughout the film. At times, the two show genuine concern for one another. A few moments later, though, it’s as if the other doesn’t even exist. But these actions make the kinship feel extremely realistic.

Cuaron also wisely chooses to avoid the forced, heartfelt monologues and flashbacks to the brothers’ past. Everything is kept in the moment, and this immediacy helps the film maintain momentum. Granted, the clichés bog down the first two-thirds considerably, but it could have been much worse with a less skilled writer at work.

Cuaron also wisely avoids the love triangle, another easy target with the potential to break the story arc’s already bending back. That’s not to say there aren’t women women in Rudo y Cursi. But the women who appear are well-established elements of the central storyline instead of unnecessary sidebars to fill time.

Beto’s wife is a strong-willed mother who is sick of putting up with her husband’s bad habits. Tato is single until he finds success and its many spoils, such as a TV star who seems a little too conveniently interested once Tato becomes Cursi. Neither love interest has any pertinent interaction with her man’s brother, but this helps exemplify the duo’s true feelings (who else would a strong-willed man confess his emotions to?).

Unfortunately, the most necessary divergence from cliché doesn’t show its full face until shortly before film’s end and after the audience has been asked to patiently put up with predictable plot twists for much too long. Throughout the hour and a half or so, Cuaron expects his viewers to be able to stomach cliché after cliché merely so he can reverse the audience’s expectations by film’s end. While a smashing finale can save plenty of films (and this is a solid, impactful final twist), the writer/director fails to provide enough entertainment along the way to make the slow pace to the finish line worth the wait. Yes, Garcia Bernal and Luna are quite good in their respective roles, but the script lacks a sense of wonder, urgency, or even general curiosity.

Everyone knows how it will end – or do they? That’s the catch Cuaron tries to employ to save his cute little soccer movie, but unveiling your theme only moments before the credits run is too late, especially for Rudo y Cursi. Sports have changed from when kids played with one another in their back yards. Now, it’s more business focused and ruthless. Where did the fun go?

These questions are all important ones, but combining them with the clichéd concept of “sports stars have problems too” makes them seem less fresh than they could have been if framed by themselves. The message is clear by film’s end, but there’s not enough fun to be had before you get there.

The extras on the Blu-ray disc actually provide much of the fun missing from the main feature. There’s an almost half-hour long making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and a pair of music videos shown partially during the main movie but fully realized here.

Also on the single-disc package is a question and answer session with Cuaron, Garcia Bernal, and Luna as well as commentary by the trio during the movie. The Q&A section is pretty standard, but definitely worth watching for fans of the filmmakers. All three are enthusiastic participants in everything on the disc, and the bond between the three amigos truly shines through even if some of the information conveyed is far from crucial to the viewer. If only more of that elation could have come across in the film itself.

RATING 6 / 10
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