Throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s, the Zucker Bros made a series of terrific films that fully embraced the cinematic parody. Nothing was sacred – indeed, they lampooned action films, police procedurals, war movies, and disaster flicks – and they succeeded largely because the makers embraced their insanity with broad strokes: they passed up on many little jokes that would’ve fine-tuned their comedies often in favor of the bigger laughs, and that meant keeping with material vastly more mainstream than other filmmakers before them had tried. It was a winning formula, one that brought their particular brand of humor to the masses.
Armando Alvarez (played by Will Ferrell) is a simple man. Blessed with his mother’s eyes and wit (i.e. he ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer), he spends his days riding the range with his father’s ranch hands, caring for the cattle and laughing about life. However, when a mysterious woman with a mysterious past mysteriously enters his older brother’s life and brings with her the threat of a booming drug trade to besmirch his family name, Armando picks up the same rifle he accidentally shot his mother with (yes, you read that right), but, this time, he’s intent of seeing justice served! Mamma mia!
Despite the star power packed into this one (Tinseltown favorites Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star as opposing drug lords), I found most of CASA DE MI PADRE largely disappointing. Zaniness works, but it works most effectively when it came be embraced by the widest audience possible. As best as I’ve been able to ascertain, quite a bit of the film intended to lampoon Spanish TV telenovelas – of which I’ve seen none – and classic Mexican westerns. While I found it easy to spot most of the stitches, I think I kept missing the fast ball. Granted, it’s easy to spot humor, and quite a bit of CASA works effectively; however, I struggled with an overwhelming expectation of bigger jokes, but those never came.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no prude. As I’ve made clear, I love most of what the Zuckers and company have done with mainstream spoofs, and therein lay the rub: while they mostly parodied mainstream interests, CASA focuses its aim very narrowly at times. Sure, the joke was there, but I certainly didn’t get the association. In all honesty, I think it’s safe to say that 50-60% of the jokes worked for me; it was the slightly off 40-50% that were clearly intended to be funny (but weren’t) that preoccupied my mind after it was all over. For example, the reliable Nick Offerman (from NBC TV’s stellar “Parks & Recreation”) is mostly wasted here in a few scenes that account to nothing more than ridiculously deadpan delivery of hackneyed Spanish lines.
Still, there is some wonderful lunacy at display here, especially when a drug kingpin can’t decide which of the two lit cigarettes he most wants to smoke, cocktails seemingly change hands (and glasses) across multiple camera takes, and studio-stuffed horses stride untethered past obvious painted backdrops. Also, some of the dialogue just flat out makes no sense, but it’s still a delight to see it coming out of the mouths of folks so desperately committed to making it sound relevant. Mostly, it’s the low-brow stuff here that succeeds and is memorable; had writer/producer Andrew Steele and Director Matt Piedmont stuck to that winning formula, I’ve no doubt that CASA would’ve garnered a larger audience when it played theatrically.
Also – because, as a budding critic, I really do believe in full disclosure – I’m happy to admit that I’ve never been the biggest Will Ferrell fan when it comes to comedy. I love his manic intensity, but, this time out, he underplays it most of the time. In CASA, he plays it mostly straight, and, to my utter delight, it worked! He speaks Spanish perfect (be forewarned: the film is subtitled, and those subtitles are also used to slight the telenovels they’re all lampooning), and that only further enamored me of his work this time out.
CASA DE MI PADRE is produced by NALA Films and Gary Sanchez Productions. DVD distribution is being handled through Lionsgate. It looks and sounds very solid – some sequences are even deliberately given grain, distortion, or shoddy editing in order to poke even greater fun at the genres involved (and it works mostly). The release is packed with extra features, included a ‘making of’ featurette, deleted scenes, a music video, fake commercials, a production interview, and an audio commentary featuring the director, writer, and star Farrell. A nice complement for a film that probably deserved wider success at the box office.
RECOMMENDED. Mostly harmless, CASA DE MI PADRE is an in-joke that not everyone will get but most audiences will still be able to appreciate the laughs. Funnyman Will Ferrell continues to churn out one mediocre comedy after another, but this one had potential to really transcend the ages in much the same way that the Zucker Bros’s comedies have but missed due to the constraints of the subject matter. Instead of being a real gutt-buster, it seemed more ‘clever’ than it did ‘colorful.’ No doubt audiences familiar with the subject matter will remain highly captivated. It certainly has the potential to develop a cult following in the years ahead, especially given Ferrell’s star power. It’s a concept comedy that could’ve used a little dumbing down for its own good.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with a DVD screener copy of CASA DE MI PADRE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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