The movie is, overall, a pretty silly affair, with the cast playing things so straight that it only amplifies the tongue-in-cheek tone.
In Casa de mi Padre Will Ferrell plays Armando, a Mexican rancher who belongs to the wealthy and powerful Alvarez family. Armando’s father, Ernesto (the late great Pedro Armendáriz Jr.), thinks his son is something of a dunce – so it is with great pride that Ernesto welcomes home Armando’s brother Raul (Diego Luna) and his bride-to-be, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez).
At first Armando is happy to have his brother home, but things soon take a turn for the ugly: Armando learns that Raul and Sonia are mixed up in the drug trade, and have brought both shame and violence to the Alvarez doorstep. Not only is Raul at odds with ruthless cartel lord “La Onza” (Gael García Bernal), but he also has crooked Federales and American DEA agents on his tail as well. It isn’t long before blood starts to spill, and Armando must become a greater man if he is to protect la casa de su padre.
Casa de mi Padre emulates the approach of previous Ferrell starring vehicles like Anchorman, and Talladega Nights, by trying to be a straight-faced spoof of a particular film and/or cinematic genre; in this case, Latin telenovellas or B-movie films (an opening logo assures us it was filmed in “Mexicoscope”). The movie doesn’t go so far as to try to emulate the washed-out, battered look of grindhouse film reels (like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Taratino did with their Grindhouse double feature); in fact, the visuals are actually pretty crisp and modern.
Instead of a dated look, the filmmakers use cheap anachronistic props, animatronic animals (courtesy of the Jim Henson workshop), pronouncedly fake painted backdrops, awkward edits and cinematic miscues to convey how shoddy their product is (much in the same way that Black Dynamite did with its contradictory edits and silly production errors). The movie is, overall, a pretty silly affair, with the cast playing things so straight that it only amplifies the tongue-in-cheek tone. The cheap production values and editing errors are milked for the biggest laughs, as the dialogue and improvised scenes of comedy tend to be on the lukewarm-to-cold side of the scale (with a few notable exceptions).
Casa de mi Padre was directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele; both are longtime collaborators with Ferrell, who worked with them on SNL during his late ’90s, early ’00s heyday, and later via the Funny or Die comedy website. In that sense, Casa de mi Padre plays like an extended SNL or FoD sketch, which probably explains why it is only mildly amusing, rather than laugh-out-loud funny. Those who have little love for Ferrell’s brand of comedy (what I like to call the Anchorman test) will likely miss the joke entirely.
Ferrell himself is rather restrained in this movie – but again, most of the humor is in the disparity of his straight-faced performance as a tall, pale, gringo actor playing a salt-of-the-earth Mexican rancher. The whole movie is in Spanish, and Ferrell surprisingly delivers his lines with a hint of unexpected Latin flair (as opposed to co-star Nick Offerman’s humorous gringo-tinted version of the language). Adrian Martinez (Kick-Ass, Cop Out) and Napoleon Dynamite star Efren Ramirez are understatedly funny as Armando’s pals/ranch hands (see header image), milking what few scenes they are in for some good laughs.
There’s something deliciously fun about watching the Mexican actors in the cast spoof their own cinematic history: Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna gained wide notice for their portrayal of two best-frien(emies) in the 2001 film Y Tu Mamá También. Fans of that Alfonso Cuarón classic will have a great time watching the boys (now all grown up) once again trading sparks – this time with a note of hilarity – as the two warring drug dealers. Pedro Armendáriz Jr. is an icon (see: Tombstone, Amistad, The Mexican, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Legend of Zorro) and seeing the late actor get silly onscreen one last time is welcome treat.
This film fancies itself as the “introduction” of leading lady Genesis Rodriguez – though American audiences got an eyeful of the actress earlier this year in the heist-thriller Man on a Ledge. However, where Rodriguez was somewhat misplaced in Man on a Ledge, she is perfect here as a lovely object of desire, complete with that stereotypical Latin fiery passion (which this film does take a minute to poke fun at). Hard to hate a movie that offers so many golden-lit looks at such a beautiful woman.
In the end, Casa de mi Padre is a silly romp for Ferrell and friends, though it’s not humor that will necessarily go over with viewers who A) aren’t all that familiar with Mexican cinema, B) aren’t fans of Ferrell-brand spoofing, or C) are from the culture whose cinema is being mocked, and don’t like the idea of some gringos holding the prodding stick. If you feel like you fall into one of those three categories, best to pass on this film. All others – you’d probably be better off waiting for a rental, rather than paying ticket price.
Casa de mi Padre is now playing in theaters. It is rated R for bloody violence, language, some sexual content and drug use.