Will Ferrell deposits his man-child persona into a Mexican potboiler in “Casa de mi Padre” and doesn’t speak a lick of English along the way. The “Saturday Night Live” alum might broaden his base with his not really awful Spanish, but longtime Ferrell fans will ask, “donde esta” the laughs?
It’s easy to write off “Casa” as an “SNL” telenovela satire writ way too large. The intentions behind it are sound ... it’s the execution that’s problematic.
Ferrell plays Armando, a dim ranchero trying to save the family business. His salvation comes in the form of his younger, more guapo brother Raul (Diego Luna), who just so happens to have enough money to save the day. That cash comes from Raul’s drug dealings, a line of business which invites danger in the form of the feisty Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
And when Armando lays eyes on Raul’s fetching fiancé (Genesis Rodriguez), it’s only a matter of time before an amour triangle develops.
“Casa de mi Padre” opens with a “Grindhouse” style credit sequence, complete with scratchy film stock, garish colors and over-the-top behavior. At times the film breaks, or an extra can be seen in a reflection, revealing the faux bare bones incidentals behind the film.
That spell is repeatedly broken when director Matt Piedmont uses more sophisticated angles and edits to portray an important story point or even a character entrance. If you’re going to go the Full Grindhouse, consistency is vital.
Both Luna and Bernal are capable actors, but neither will be auditioning for “SNL” anytime soon. “Casa” lacks the kind of sterling supporting turns that can transform an average gag into a howler. That leaves Ferrell to fend for himself, and he flounders thanks to a screenplay lacking any memorable lines.
The film’s jokes involve a character who holds his glass of booze steady even while being riddled with bullets, another who smokes two cigarettes at once and an NEA agent (Nick Offerman) who speaks in the flattest Spanish accent in modern screen history.
Offermans horrific delivery reminds us that Ferrell’s approach to the foreign tongue isn’t half bad. Ferrell doesn’t acknowledge his Caucasian heritage as Armando, leaving it as the unspoken joke connecting one scene to the next.
“Casa” sneaks in a random assault on Americans mid-film, showing the main Mexican characters dubbing their neighbors to the north as soft and chiding them for eating “sh*t burgers.” The moment comes and goes, and It’s neither funny nor helpful to anything else along the way.
Later, there’s a plea not to assume all Americans are bad, or that all Mexicans deal drugs. The speechifying feels as awkward as one of those "unexpected" gaffes, but the film's goofy tone isn’t irreparably damaged. The comedy is too lightweight for anything substantial to stick.
"Casa de mi Padre" spoofs a genre all but unknown to American film goers, but Ferrell's film still could have clicked with a funnier script and wackier bit players.