Casa De Mi Padre

A joke that has to be explained isn’t really a joke at all. You get it or you don’t. Things that are kind-of funny are also kind-of not funny while stories that start out funny don’t always end up that way.

For his new comedy, Will Ferrell spoofs the peculiarly Mexican soap-opera known as the telenovela, supersaturated serial melodramas in which moustachioed men strut about in tight pants while scheming women heave their bosoms and throw random dagger-eyes. A particularly Mexican celebration of sex, death, glitz and trash (and watched by millions) the format hasn’t travelled to this side of the Atlantic. And neither does Casa de mi Padre, although unfamiliarity is only part of the reason why Ferrell’s parody is a dud. Stilted, choppy, weird and woefully short on laughs, what might have been a riotous eight-minute skit in a sketch show – or a viral sensation on Ferrell’s own Funny or Die website - feels horribly overextended at feature length.

Wide-eyed and innocent farmhand Armando Alvarez (Ferrell, speaking fluent Spanish) is the second son of a dairy rancher (the late Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz Jr. in his last role) who lives deep in the backcountry in a hacienda filled with coloured tiles and heavy wooden furniture. Armando, devoted to the land, couldn’t be more different to his flashy older brother Raul (Diego Luna), who left the ranch to make it big in the drug-trade in Mexico City. When their father finds himself in financial difficulty, the prodigal Raul returns in his gleaming white limousine, with his gorgeous fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) in tow, to save the homestead. When she stands and listens to her awkward soon-to-be brother-in-law expand on his notions of the ideal woman – someone who shares his love for the soil, Mexico, cattle and cactus-flowers – Sonia realises that this curly-haired buffoon is her soul mate. But how can Armando betray his only brother? And who will protect their homestead against the ruthless rival drug lord La Onza (Gael García Bernal)?

From the flashy opening credits to the obviously painted backdrops, the film mimics the sun-faded look of old two-reel serials, with undisguised rear-projections, intentional continuity errors and stuffed toys standing in for wild animals. Furthering the illusion are skipped frames, orange bursts of overexposed film and scratch marks that recall Tarantino’s 2007 retro-exercise Grindhouse.  There’s even a moment, about half way through, where everything comes to a dead stop as the filmmakers read out an apology for the shabbiness of their special effects, blaming the chaos that resulted from an unfortunate coming together of a wild tiger and a bag of cocaine. A lot of time and effort has been spent making this pricey studio comedy look like something cobbled together on a shoestring in the 1970s, but nothing like the same level of care and attention has been paid to the script. What Casa de mi Padre lacks are funny jokes that follow, one after another, in a reasonably paced progression.

Ferrell does his usual deadpan innocent but the story only occasionally allows him to play to his strengths; child-like bemusement, simmering frustration and flights of surreal lunacy. The few times that the actor does get to let loose are, unsurprisingly, the best moments in the film, particularly an inspired moment where Armando sits with his ranchero buddies (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez) at a campfire and signs a plaintive love song, pausing to clean the spit-valve on his trumpet before starting a bumptious solo. But it’s too little, too late for a film that clocks in at just 84 minutes but feels considerably longer. No mi gusta. No mi gusta one bit.

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