In the past decade, film spoofs have all been a bit too obvious – scary movies, superhero movies, disaster movies (which apparently include Juno, go figure). But Will Ferrell has never been one to go for the obvious joke, and his latest, directed by Saturday Night Live alumnus Matt Piedmont, targets a subgenre that much of its audience will not even be aware exists; Spanish-language telenovelas.
Sure there are a handful of gags poking fun at Westerns and grindhouse films (and even hints at Brian de Palma’s Scarface), but Casa de Mi Padre really takes its spoof target by the reins and goes with it… possibly to a fault.
Almost entirely in Spanish with subtitles, and with Ferrell showing an impressive ear for the language, Casa de Mi Padre is either an inspired attempt to get America’s massive Latin population into cinemas, or a linguistic misfire alienating the comedian’s core, Anglophonic audience. Exactly which of these groups it is targeting remains unclear.
Ferrell stars as Armando, a simple Mexican ranch hand and heir to his father’s lands. As the ranch falls into difficulty, Armando’s handsome, successful brother Raúl (Diego Luna) returns home to save the day. Problems arise when Armando falls for Raúl’s beautiful fiancé Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and Raúl’s dodgy dealings get the ranch into trouble with local drug baron Onza (Gael García Bernal).
The film milks its melodrama for all it’s worth, with some delightfully over the top performances, but sadly it’s all very predictable. Ferrell’s ad-lib shtick doesn’t translate particularly well, so the film is forced to use cheap visual gags and non sequiturs to earn its laughs. Many of these jokes rely on the low-budget styles of Mexican soap opera; the film is riddled with intentional continuity errors and needlessly cheap special effects. While this does result in the film’s sole superb gag, when the special effects go completely awry, it shows the limitations of the material.
The film’s running gag, that it’s in Spanish, eventually becomes unnoticeable, except when the poor editing causes subtitles to run across cuts and become illegible. There is also a problem with Ferrell’s character, whose competence is so ill-defined that he veers between being a little slow and borderline mentally disabled.
Thankfully the cast are all game, although it’s unfortunate Luna and García Bernal don’t play on their previous roles together – it would have been fun for them to bring to the fore the homoeroticism that lurked under the surface of Y Tu Mamá También. While showing only some promise as an actress, the ravishingly beautiful Genesis Rodriguez makes the sort of first impression that Cameron Diaz made in The Mask; a star is born, no doubt. Fun support is provided by Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro, Efren Ramirez, and Adrian Martinez as Armando’s ranch hand pals, while fans of Parks & Recreation will be disappointed to see that show’s breakout star Nick Offerman reduced to a grunting drug enforcement agent.
While a few silly musical numbers liven up proceedings (including one frankly bizarre sex scene), the film never lives up to its opening title song, a thrilling Spanish ballad belted over the credits by Christina Aguilera. It’s a very gentle slope downhill from there, but sadly Casa de Mi Padre never manages to clamber back up.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)