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'Casa de mi Padre' Suffers from an Identity Crisis

Turns out telenovelas aren't renowned for their philosophically penetrating examinations of the human condition, after all.

Casa de mi Padre

Director: Matt Piedmont
Cast: Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Genesis Rodriguez, Nick Offerman, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Efren Ramirez, Adrian Martinez
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Release date: 2012-07-17

The most sage bit of wisdom anyone could have given the filmmakers behind Casa de mi Padre comes from within the film itself. In an early scene, Señor Álvarez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) tells his son Armando (Will Ferrell), "If you were truly smart, you would know that you are dumb."

This line is spoken seven minutes into the movie. Unfortunately, there are 75 more after that.

The premise of Casa de mi Padre is simple enough. It's a spoof of the telenovela, with elements of the absurdist humor producers Ferrell and Adam McKay are privy to after making American hits like Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Everything here aims at being as true to the telenovela as possible, which includes Ferrell speaking Spanish all throughout, which he does quite well.

He plays Armando Álvarez, a well-meaning but slightly aloof farmer's son. His simple life as a ranch hand has begun to face turmoil as the local drug runners begin to kill people in the region. Things only get worse from there when his brother Raúl (Diego Luna) returns to Casa Álvarez with the beautiful Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez) in tow, with the intent to ask his father to be wed to her.

Of course, there's a twist here: Raúl is himself involved in the drug business now. On top of this, the DEA (led by a sadly underutilized Nick Offerman as the neo-conservative Agent Parker) is on the tails of both the drug cartel and the Álvarez family.

Some of the more bizarre plot details could be mentioned here, but in the end that brief plot description's depth is more or less equal to that of the script. No doubt this is the intention of the film: telenovelas aren't renowned for their philosophically penetrating examinations of the human condition, after all.

However, this does not excuse the flimsiness of the writing, which leads to lies the biggest issue with the script. Given that telenovelas (just like their American counterparts) are based on underwritten stories, in order to craft an effective spoof or satire a writer has to do more than merely write a weak story. Anyone with functioning sight and hearing who also happens to get Univision knows this about the telenovela.

Casa de mi Padre is many things, but clever is not one of them; save for Ferrell's mug and a few of the eccentricities rooted in the American participants, there isn't much that separates what's on the screen from a typical telenovela. The humor is so obvious that most of the time it doesn't land. What ends up serving as the source for the funniest moments are not the tropes at the forefront, but instead the weirder excursions.

The best of these is Armando's encounters with "The White Cat", a plainly fake tiger-looking thing that rescues him after being shot. In a Mufasa-referencing turn, the White Cat comes to serve as something of a narrative unifier to this very disorganized set of events. "I am Yik'in Chan Kwawiil," he says, "the one that darkens the sky." Why a Chinese tiger is in the Mexican desert is of course never explained, much like how Ferrell's whiteness relative to both of his parents' Hispanic heritage isn't.

This doesn't matter, of course; Yik'in serves to induce Armando into a vision, a psychedelic hodgepodge of images that inexplicably heals his three bullet wounds and sets him on the path to earn his family's honor back. This brief flash of creativity is a much needed laugh in a movie lacking them; though at 84 minutes this thing flies by, the amount of jokes that land is equivalent to how many landed in a regular episode of the 2011-2012 season of SNL. Which is to say, very few.

But even if one finds the telenovela send-up funny, there are other unusual plot choices that clash with the tone set by the majority of the plot. What feels most out of place is the violence; in a brief making-of featurette, Ferrell likens these scenes (in particular a massacre at the wedding of Raúl and Sonia) to the work of Tarantino, but if anything it's more like how Troy Duffy did Tarantino. The thinnest possible layer of style is there, but in reality there's nothing more to it than buckets of blood. Drug cartels may be well known for violence, but here these scenes of slow-mo bloodletting don't do much to add to the plot or to the humor; they're just there.

As if those weren't out of place enough, there's a love scene that tops Ferrell's "grandma" sex scene with Eva Mendes in The Other Guys tenfold in awkwardness. Shot with a special emphasis on buttock-grabbing, the intertwined bodies of Sonia and Armando couldn't look more out of place. This is part of the gag, of course, but it can't help but feel gratuitous.

Those two out-of-place scenes create something of an identity crisis for Casa de mi Padre. On the one hand, this is supposed to be a straightforward ribbing of the telenovela. However, it also tries to be a Tarantino parody and an absurdist riff-raff in line with what McKay and Ferrell have done before. In such a short runtime, one can only do so much, and with that information in mind one should try to do especially good at one thing rather than okay at a few things.

Unfortunately, Casa de Mi Padre isn't really good at anything. Ferrell really gives this his all; he had a very short amount of time to learn Spanish for his role, and he rarely falters. But a persona alone can rarely save a film, and Ferrell is no exception.

Included on the disc are a few bonus features, most notably a making-of featurette and almost twenty minutes of deleted scenes. There are glimpses of humor in the latter, but while watching them all I could think of was how much worse the movie would have been were they included.

And thus we are brought back full circle to the wisdom bestowed upon Armando by his father. Had the people responsible for Casa de mi Padre been smart in the course of making this motion picture, they would have seen how dumb all this really is.


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