You have to give Will Ferrell credit, at least, for using his significant star power not to go the lazy, unforgivable Adam Sandler route, but to clear a path for some of the oddest forms of comedy out there. Through Funny or Die he's given voice to the likes of Tim & Eric and Zach Galifianakis's "Between Two Ferns" series, and with Casa de mi Padre Ferrell takes the out-there sensibilities of Funny or Die and translates them to a shaggy, deeply strange feature. It doesn't really work, with its reliance on deliberately bad production values, awkward silences and the strange sight of Ferrell speaking Spanish, but it also lets the likes of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna cut loose and be funny in their native language, and for every 10 jokes that bomb, there's usually one that hits. That's a dismal batting average, but hey, it's better than Jack & Jill.
In this deliberately simple and derivative story, Ferrell is the simple ranch hand Armando Alvarez, still working his father's land, dreaming of the day he can meet a nice woman, and living in the shadow of his older brother Raul (Diego Luna), now a success in the big city. After Raul returns home with a hot fiancee (Geneis Rodriguez) in tow it doesn't take long to find out he's involved in the drug trade, working alongside the vicious "narco" La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), who wears all-white suits and has a wildcat emblazoned on his boots. Eventually, of course, it falls upon Armando to save the family, but not before getting some advice from a mystical talking jaguar who lives in the desert, flashing back to a tragic childhood accident, occasionally crossing paths with an American DEA agent (Nick Offerman) and falling for Raul's fiancee.
Casa de mi Padre isn't just taking aim at melodrama with its stilted plot, but with a lot of deliberately bad filmmaking and acting, from overdramatic pauses to painted backdrops that shake to moments where the film seems to break and jump ahead a few frames. It's the kind of wink-wink nostalgia that Quentin Tarantino often employs, but here it feels as much of a non-joke as anything else, a chance to be weird and unexpected with no punchline in sight. When you're bombarded with so much absurdity it's hard to hang in there, and with no plot or characters worth a damn, Casa de mi Padre starts feeling like a long series of in-jokes, gags that seemed funny on the set but barely ought to be worthy of a blooper reel.
Probably the best scene comes when Luna and Bernal have a confrontation in a bar, with Ferrell sitting in between them, seeming to get only about 50% of the dialogue. Ferrell's deliberately stilted Spanish is a funny contrast to the native speakers, and Bernal and Luna take their scenes so seriously that when they do something absurd-- like pulling actual dirt from beneath the bar to express the importance of the land-- it hits well. But for the most part the rest of the movie takes the absurdity and runs way, way too far with it, leaving you to ponder how many of these gags might have worked on their own, either part of a more grounded movie or the five-minute Internet sketch this probably should have been.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich