Sunday, March 18, 2012
Casa de mi Padre (2012)
Casa de mi Padre (2012)
Dir. Matt Piedmont
3.5 out of 5
A novelty film if there ever was one, Casa de mi Padre features famed gringo Will Ferrell as the Spanish-speaking protagonist in something equivalent to a '70s-era telenovela. The simple-minded son of a struggling Mexican rancher, Ferrell pales in comparison to his financially successful brother (Diego Luna), returning to the homestead with his gorgeous bride-to-be (Genesis Rodriguez) in tow. It becomes apparent that Luna has foolishly aligned himself with a ruthless drug lord (Gael García Bernal) who nullifies their business arrangement and resolves to wipe out the brothers and their ranch. But Ferrell's guileless nature and florid poetry conceals his thirst for hot-blooded justice. Despite his gentle disposition, he wills himself to rise to the occasion as a lover and a fighter. The same could be said of the film, which re-creates a genre that exists largely in its own imagination - Mexploitation - in a lighthearted spoof of hastily assembled B-movies and a dig at nostalgic retreads that slap a retro patina over a generic action movie plot.
Casa de mi Padre makes a concerned effort to make sure that it looks as cheap as possible with numerous continuity errors, amateurish soundstage sets, and poorly-disguised mannequins serving as extras. The makeshift vibe extends to the script, which seizes on Ferrell's ability to speak decent conversational Spanish. The intentionally cheesy dialogue sets up a bare-bones melodrama, leaving plenty of time for the movie's effective sight gags, which lean heavily on the obvious incongruity of the lanky, blue-eyed Ferrell as a smoldering Mexican folk hero. Better still is Casa's send-up of outlaw machismo. Ferrell and his horseback-riding, campfire-singing companions discuss women like a group of inexperienced sixth graders, and Bernal's cosmopolitan villain has noted weaknesses for bejeweled cowboy boots and long Cruella de Vil-style cigarettes. (Ferrell's own subtle difficulties in rolling his smokes pay off in the movie's best running gag.)
Excessive campiness allows Casa to recuse itself from insensitive jabs at Mexican culture, as it avoids the pitfalls of portraying the country as a stereotypical backwater of lawlessness and poverty. The film's version of Mexico is cartoonish, sure, but it's the result of deliberately bad filmmaking instead of a commentary on national values. It even has some satirical bite in Nick Offerman's corrupt DEA agent (an evil honky in the grand tradition of blaxpolitation cinema) as well as in dialogue that humorously pins the blame for the drug wars on Americans and their insatiable, irresponsible way of life. The film's one-joke premise inevitably suffers from diminishing returns and resorts to rote silliness when there's no clear resolution to a scene, but with its brief running time you can't really accuse it of overstaying its welcome. Casa de mi Padre never transcends the label of "self-aware curiosity," and it doesn't have to, not when it approaches something resembling an effortless, easygoing whimsy - an accomplishment that's impressive in any language.