March 23, 2012 in Features

Telenovela comedy ‘Casa’ achieves cute - not more

Christy Lemire Associated Press
 

Will Ferrell, portraying Armando Alvarez, left, and Diego Luna, portraying Raul Alvarez, are shown in a scene from “Casa de Mi Padre.”
(Full-size photo)

It’s a total goof, of course.

That’s obvious even before Will Ferrell, dressed in a cowboy hat and a neckerchief sitting astride a horse in the Mexican desert, opens his mouth and utters his first overly enunciated Spanish words in “Casa de Mi Padre.” It’s clear from the opening titles: a grainy, bloody, Quentin Tarantino-style montage of melodramatic spaghetti Western imagery, featuring Christina Aguilera belting out the bombastic theme song.

The affection for B-movies and telenovelas is clear in this sendup from Matt Piedmont (making his directing debut) and writer Andrew Steele, longtime collaborators of Ferrell’s from “Saturday Night Live” and “Funny or Die.” But the premise, which would have been just fine as a sketch, feels as if it’s been stretched awfully thin to fill an entire feature.

Still, you have to give everyone involved credit for just going for it. That starts with Ferrell himself, speaking solid Spanish (albeit with an Americanized accent) as Armando Alvarez, a dimwitted ranchero whose successful businessman brother, Raul (Diego Luna), is the star of the family as far as their father (the late Pedro Armendariz Jr.) is concerned.

Armando actually has a lot in common with Ferrell’s most famous comic characters, men who are steadfastly self-serious and unaware of their own idiocy. He could be un hermano to Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby, or at least un primo; the performance isn’t too far off from Ferrell’s impression of former President George W. Bush, either. That he sings a drunken campfire tune with his best friends (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez) celebrating the fact that all he understands is cows softens and sweetens him by comparison.

Everyone plays it totally straight – no one questions how the gangly Ferrell could possibly belong in this family – and when Raul brings home his stunningly beautiful fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), it further seals Armando’s inferiority. But it turns out Raul is a drug dealer locked in a turf war with the powerful Onza (Luna’s friend and frequent co-star Gael Garcia Bernal).

Armando must find a way to restore the family’s respectable name, even as he finds himself falling in love with Sonia. And Rodriguez, a former telenovela actress who also appeared this year as a knockout jewel thief in “Man on a Ledge,” seems quite comfortable with this kind of over-the-top material.

Intentional continuity errors, missing frames and cheap production values abound. Far more effort went into making “Casa de Mi Padre” look like crap than making it, you know, legitimately good. That’s the source of steady humor but never outright hilarity, and it all might have seemed far more novel if directors like Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez hadn’t already staked out this territory. An example of outright weirdness – which “Casa de Mi Padre” could have used more of – is the stream-of-consciousness fever dream Armando experiences after an encounter with a mystical snow leopard in the desert, an animatronic cat created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop that gives him advice.

When it’s obvious that Armando and Sonia aren’t really riding their horses, for example, but rather are sitting in front of a chintzy background, it’s good for a chuckle. During one of many zooms in this ’70s-style production, you can see the camera crew in the reflection of a character’s sunglasses.

Again, cute, but not much more. But maybe it’s better if you’ve had a couple margaritas with friends beforehand.

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