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There is absolutely nothing wrong with the classic Odd Couple dynamic. Not only has it been the basis for some of the greatest duos in pop culture history, but it even has firm roots in Freudian psychology, essentially presenting a showdown between id and super ego. It’s a type of relationship that has existed in storytelling forever, and it always will.
It’s when characters don’t at all rise above that dynamic or needlessly wallow in it that it becomes a problem. When they don’t grow at all and get thrown into rote situation after rote situation, the formula behind the conflict-driven rapport becomes obvious, and as soon as an audience sees it you’ve lost them permanently – even if you try and buy them back with high-grade emotional manipulation.
This, unfortunately, is the modus operandi of Luke Greenfield's Half Brothers. This is a film that has good intentions, injecting a road comedy plot with commentary about issues plaguing modern immigration, but doesn’t have the script to get the job done. It’s obvious and simplistic, and worst of all has a plot entirely built on coincidence and contrivance that undermines both the comedy and the drama.
Written by Jason Shuman and Eduardo Cisneros, the film starts introducing the uptight jerk Renato Murguía (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a young man who owns an aviation company in Mexico and has a permanent chip on his shoulder thanks to his father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), abandoning him at a young age to try and find job opportunities in the United States. With less than a week before his wedding, he gets a message that Flavio is terminally ill and only has a few days left to live, and while Renato is at first determined to ignore it, his fiancé (Pia Watson) convinces him to travel to Chicago and say goodbye.
What he discovers after he lands only causes that aforementioned shoulder chip to grow, as he learns in the hospital that Flavio got remarried in America and had another son named Asher (Connor Del Rio) a.k.a. the weirdo spaz. Flavio gives Renato an envelope that he promises will explain everything, but Renato rejects it, and Flavio dies shortly thereafter. The spurned son reluctantly stays for the funeral, and it’s there that Asher begins to pester him about the envelope and their father’s last wish.
As it turns out, what’s in the envelope is the first clue in an elaborate scavenger hunt, and though Renato complains every step of the way, he and Asher head off together to follow the trail, all while operating under the pressure of getting back to Mexico in time for the wedding.
Half Brothers is totally lacking in imagination, and just recycles clichés.
Rekindling a classic high concept plot like this one is an exercise requiring creativity, but that’s something entirely lacking in Half Brothers, which feels a mix of first ideas and over-zealous use of the copy-paste function. The wedding, for example, is ridiculously overused as a ticking clock plot device these days anyway, but it’s even further rendered confusing here by the fact that Renato is presented as someone who is seen as off-putting by every person he meets (making you wonder how he managed to get a woman to want to marry him).
And then there’s the introduction of Asher, who just so happens get in a fight with Renato while they are in line at a coffee shop… before they even know they’re half-brothers! Hilarious, right? And definitely not a shtick used thousands of times before.
Past its basic setup, the movie goes into an auto pilot mode that sees the same thing happen over and over again: either Asher’s weirdness causes some kind of conflict to needlessly arise (such as his totally random instinct to steal a goat from a roadside attraction); or Renato gets another piece of the puzzle from his father and repeats his emotional reaction (which is to get fed up with the whole mission, quit, and then be forced to return via circumstance). The cycle is so obvious that it feels like you could set a clock to it, and it creates a serious drain on the entertainment value.
Half Brothers’ characters simply aren’t likable enough to be funny.
Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio don’t deliver bad performances, as they work with what they are given, but they also don’t really do anything to elevate the material. It’s certainly possible to craft a likable and funny curmudgeon, but Mendez’s Renato is too spiteful at the world and mean to ever inspire any laughs. Del Rio has a similar problem on the other side of the spectrum. The audience is meant to love a character like Asher because he is a free spirit who doesn’t play by society’s rules, but we’re never given anything positive to latch on to from the character, as he solely serves as an agent of chaos who sets metaphorical fires to provide the story with conflict. As a result, you don’t like him enough to find his antics to be funny.
With Half Brothers’ comedy falling flat, the drama doesn’t stand a chance.
Ideally, Half Brothers would operate with its comedy and drama in perfect balance – with big laughs and entertaining characters engaging you to the point where you feel devastated when you learn Flavio’s full story, but the problem is that when one fails, so does the other. Rather than coming across as a case of “set ‘em up and knock ‘em down,” it registers more as “if you don’t like the comedy, maybe try the drama,” and it isn’t effective at all. Without the proper tonal equilibrium, it manages to instead feel exploitative and manipulative, and makes the movie even more of a turn off.
To its credit, Half Brothers’ heart is certainly in the right place, as the message it attempts to convey is positive and one that is easy to appreciate in the strife-filled global climate; it’s simply a botch in execution of the basic idea. The good news is that within the next two years we’re all but guaranteed to get another comedy with the same familiar Odd Couple dynamic, and it will hopefully have something new to bring to the table.