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"CASA DE MI PADRE"
(2012) (Will Ferrell, Diego Luna) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: The slightly dim-witted son of a wealthy Mexican rancher must come of age as he battles a local drug lord and his own feelings for his brother's fiancée.
PLOT:
Armando (WILL FERRELL) is the slightly dim-witted, ne'er-do-well son of wealthy rancher, Miguel Ernesto (PEDRO ARMENDARIZ, JR.). He has lived and worked on the Ernesto family ranch in Mexico his whole life and enjoys carefree times of riding horses, drinking beers, and singing around campfires with his two best friends, ranch hands Esteban (EFREN RAMIREZ) and Manuel (ADRIAN MARTINEZ).

But with the ranch in dire financial straits and targeted by a local drug lord named Onza (GAEL GARCIA BERNAL), Armando's younger brother Raul (DIEGO LUNA) returns to help out. He has brought with him his gorgeous fiancée, Sonia (GENESIS RODRIGUEZ), who Armando is instantly smitten with. Little does Armando know, though, that his brother has also become a criminal and Sonia is actually the niece of Onza.

Things come to a head when Raul and Sonia's wedding is interrupted by armed gunmen. With a crooked local lawman named Blancardo (MANUEL URREGO) and an American DEA agent named Parker (NICK OFFERMAN) of no help, Armando must eventually step up and join with Raul to save the ranch, save Sonia, and possibly save the family name.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I have to hand it to Will Ferrell. He hasn't become a lazy comic actor like Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler. The man has challenged himself often over the years, whether stretching in indie flicks like "Everything Must Go" and "Stranger Than Fiction" or going the musical route in "The Producers" remake. Oh sure. There is such a thing as your "typical Will Ferrell movie" where he plays some variation of an overgrown man-child who at some point is going to strip down to his underwear or less and run screaming. But I've always admired the guy's oddball sensibilities in the various roles he has played. You rarely see Ferrell giving a lazy performance even in his worst films

"Case de mi Padre" is perhaps his most ambitious and challenging part to date. It's a spoof of Mexican telenovelas and old Spaghetti westerns performed completely in Spanish. And it's not Ferrell dubbed by whoever the guy is who stands in for him when his films are re-looped for Latin American markets. Ferrell learned Spanish for the role, and he does a really good job finding just the right balance between silly and serious in delivering his lines. It's such a daring choice for a movie star at this stage of his career, that I honestly tip my cap and write, "Good effort!"

I just wish the movie were better. The concept doesn't really work as a complete motion picture. Instead, it would have played much better as a series of sketches or even a short film in the 20- to 30-minute range. Not every story idea fits with a feature-length running time. And this is one of them.

Even worse, after about 15 minutes of this movie, you really get the sense that only Ferrell and his inner circle are really, totally, and completely in on the joke. It's like listening to a bunch of friends share a private joke and cackle incessantly at something you're just not a part of. I kept waiting for all concerned to "invite me in," but they never did. It's a shame, too, because there really are some funny ideas and moments here. But there are some problems with tone and execution, as well.

Ferrell plays Armando Ernesto, the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher (Pedro Armendariz, Jr.) who is forced to mature when he falls in love with his criminal brother's (Diego Luna) gorgeous fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) and runs afoul of a local drug lord named Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). All Armando wants to do is ride horses, look at sunsets, drink beer, and sing campfire songs with ranch-hand buddies (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez). But a white tiger appears from time to time looking into his soul and tempting him with a different destiny - one that involves saving Sonia, his family home, and even his family name.

The film is at its best when it's keeping things broad and nutty. There's a love scene between Ferrell and Rodriguez that sets some kind of record for fire-lit naked behind grabs. The filmmakers, meanwhile, have a lot of fun in making the film look as cheap as possible. When Armando and his buddies are driving in their pick-up, the view out the back window is obvious rear projection. When Armando and Sonia ride horses, it's clear the background scenery is moving and not them. Whenever we see the white tiger, it's clearly a very cheap puppet (think "Saturday Night Live's" old Toonces the cat).

At the same time, the film feels unsure of its own style and tone. In a broad comedy, where is the humor in Armando remembering a time when he was a child and three bandits came to rape his mother? Later in the sequence, Armando fires his father's rifle and accidentally shoots and kills his mom. It's not broadly played in the instant either. It's one of those awkward moments that you think might be headed towards some outlandish joke. But you end up not knowing what to feel. Later in the film, Sonia attempts suicide by drowning. And, again, there is no attempt at making it wacky or goofy. I guess they were going for a parody here of telenovela's overly dramatic plot twists and turns. But it just didn't work.

Similarly, the level of violence here is on par with any straight-forward, R-rated action flick. I couldn't but wonder if maybe they were going for a Robert Rodriguez "Desperado"-"From Dusk Til Dawn" vibe ultimately. I mean, I love a good, bloody shootout. But for many who came expecting to see Ferrell in broad comedy mode, the film's bloody action climax (seriously, think "Commando") may leave those folks perplexed.

This is a near-miss for me. I kept rooting for it to work throughout. And who knows? It might become one of those cult classic flicks that may attract a small, but very loyal following. I file it under "noble failure" -- and I hope Ferrell continues to take such risks. My grade...4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed March 19, 2012 / Posted March 21, 2012


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