La traición, la lujuria, la familia y el amor. Those are popular themes in Spanish soaps. For native speakers, backstabbing spouses, a secret romance between married individuals, and conflicted family men are sources of entertainment. But I’m sure they realize how convoluted and silly the onscreen drama is. There’s a lot to poke fun at — from bad sets to terrible special effects — and director Matt Piedmont’s Casa de mi Padre exploits those faults for comedy’s sake. However, it’s too dependent on cultural stereotypes and narrative clichés’ — making for an idea that would’ve worked beautifully as a short film. In addition, this satire operates on a stale running joke that Will Ferrell, a bumbling Westerner, is cast as Armando Alvarez, an oblivious rancher caught up in his brother Raul (Diego Luna)’s shady business.
For when the homestead encounters financial issues, Raul returns with his fiancée, Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez) and promises to settle his father’s (played by the late Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.) debts. Yet when Armando — often considered the brainless one in the family — finds out his brother’s “international trade” is a front for drug dealing, he sets out to reclaim the family’s honor. Whilst on this mission, he finds himself in a vicious battle with both a feared kingpin, the mighty Onza (Gael García Bernal), and also DEA Agent Parker (Nick Offerman).
Ferrell spent a month with a dialect coach preparing for the role, but his performance, although helpful, barely compensates for the movie’s lack of zest. And it’s not just the headliner; it is truly horrifying how good the thespians are. As part of the joke, the filmmakers insisted the acting be “award-winning.” However, instead of piling onto an already substantial heap of irony, this makes Casa de mi Padre even harder to watch. Bernal, who’s previously starred in “Even the Rain” and “Babel” and is the new Zorro in Ricardo de Montreuil’s upcoming franchise reboot, and Luna, whose past appearances include roles in “Contraband” and “Milk,” are two fantastic entertainers trapped in this paradox.
Being a parody of schmaltzy telenovelas and the cult actioners of yesteryear, there’s a lot of slow-motion, laughable bloodbaths, bare asses, and even a bit of taxidermy. Writer Andrew Steele’s script tries to establish the film’s crew — notably a fictional producer named Gary Sanchez, who’s described as a careless coke-head via a series of anecdotal breaks — as characters. Unfortunately, the “low-budget” quips that accompany these supposed production diaries are plain embarrassing.
Furthermore, missing are protagonists worth investing in. Whenever there’s an opportunity to development the leads, the filmmakers burn through it with corny and mostly recycled jokes. That’s not to say the genre demands — or even deserves — dimensional stars. In fact, movies like Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” have proven that eccentric violence can go a long way. Sadly, Piedmont is much more conservative in his approach.
Rather than shooting digitally, the director decided to use “MexicoScope,” which, to his explanation, is a combination of film and old lenses. This is the closest Casa de mi Padre gets to channeling the cinema it satirizes which, although cheaply done, is amusing by being unintentionally hilarious. A play on them should be even funnier. That’s not the case here. Es una vergüenza.