Casa de mi Padre is kind of like the evolution of the film's gag in which Will Ferrell attempts to roll a cigarette: In one scene, it's too loose and the tobacco falls out bit by bit; in another, it's flat; and in a third, he has to reach into is pocket for a spare. By the end, it's completely crooked and unsmokable.
If you have an aversion to subtitles, know that the film is in Spanish – although the narrative isn't exactly dense, so you're able to read along without much mental strain. One of the funnier points of the movie, actually, is watching Will Ferrell emote in a different language.
Sadly, Casa de mi Padre's funny points are few and far between. Director Matt Piedmont’s spin on a traditional telenovela purposefully utilizes all the elements of the low-budget dramatized productions: There are flimsy set pieces, poorly cut transitions, slow-motion action sequences and continuity errors galore. But most of the jokes fall flat, and at times go so far out of their way to be silly that they become distracting. Most memorably, an interlude when a scrolling apologetic note from a camera operator appears on-screen completely diffuses the momentum of the film, and elicits silence instead of giggles.
The plot follows competitive brothers Armando (Ferrell) and Raul (Diego Luna) in their plight to inherit their father's Mexican cattle ranch, and their conflict with the evil local drug overlord Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). The flimsy storyline and character development would be more effective as a short than a feature -- at a certain point, it becomes an exercise to stay interested. With nothing but a string of hokey gags and a barely-there narrative to guide you, it's easy to feel that Casa de mi Padre leads you off-course.
Respected actors Bernal and Luna turn in fine enough performances as characteristically seedy gangster types, but even Ferrell feels underused , never taking full advantage of his physicality (although he does get a musical number, an underwhelming consolation prize). The only real stand-out in the film is, surprisingly, the one person playing it straight: Genesis Rodriguez as Sonia, Raul's fiance. Her written role is nothing special -- typical fiery damsel fare -- but she brings an element of vulnerability and maturity to the material that's impossible to ignore. She also happens to be ridiculously beautiful.
I was rooting for Casa de mi Padre -- I love me some Will Ferrell, and I think it's brazen for such a huge star to spoof a traditional medium in its original language. It just doesn't work as a long-form film. The handful of chuckles garnered could be boiled down to a 15-minute sketch. If you find yourself at the door of Casa de mi Padre, you just may enter into a state of mucho decepción.
Casa de mi Padre opens today nationwide.