One can just picture it: late night one at the Gary Sanchez offices (the production company run by Will Ferrell and his writing partner and frequent director Adam McKay), a lightbulb goes off over someone's head. "An entire Will Ferrell comedy in Spanish!" Ideas are piled on top of more ideas, and at the end of it, you have Casa De Mi Padre, a low-budget, almost entirely Spanish-language action movie starring Ferrell and a cast of famous foreign faces (Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Efren Ramirez, etc), all played for maximum silliness.
Ferrell is Armando, a dim-bulb rancher who wants nothing more than to find a woman who loves the land as much as he does, but finds it hard to stay focused between his disapproving father Miguel (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) and a gangster known as The Onza (Bernal) committing drug executions on his family's land. The situation is complicated further when his brother Raul (Luna) returns home with his gorgeous new bride-to-be Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and Armando discovers that Raul has begun to do business with The Onza as well.
The problem with Casa De Mi Padre is that it's a spitball session presented as a movie: there's certainly 84 minutes worth of jokes here, but a big pile of jokes isn't really a movie. Somewhere between recurring gags about the film's extremely low budget (lots of stuffed animals) and the idea of Luna and Bernal spoofing their image as dramatic actors, Ferrell, McKay, and screenwriter Andrew Steele forgot to have much of a story to carry the film through. Even the wire-thin redemption of Armando as a true idiot and a huge coward doesn't really hold any weight, because his character's few emotional beats are just broad jokes too. Obviously, Casa isn't out to tug at anyone's hearstrings, but without treating Armando's dreams with even the slightest bit of seriousness, there's no reason for the viewer to care what happens to him. Genesis Rodriguez fares a little better (much, much better here than she was in Man on a Ledge), but there are only glimpses of what is either a terribly underwritten or tragically truncated character arc.
Lack of plot and a good story also kills the film's momentum dead in its tracks, in terms of both screenwriting and comedy. Without any investment in what happens next, there's no pull from one scene into the next...other than boredom, as nearly every scene treads water. If the plot advanced any faster, the film would end by the 50-minute mark, so director Matt Piedmont pads the running time with comic business. Some of this material is hilarious, like Bernal lighting up two cigarettes and dramatically smoking them at the same time, but other stuff is dead in the water (a point where the film stops for a "letter of apology" feels poorly ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Good jokes build off one another, but almost nothing in Casa De Mi Padre is more than a one-off, aside from the one-note budget gag.
As a director, Piedmont follows the Will Ferrell Comedy style template to a T, particularly the old "awkwardly dragged out joke," which is pretty hit-and-miss here (thumbs down to the reheated Anchorman laughing gag that opens the movie, thumbs up to the bottle joke after a decent musical number). In my mind, the potential for a Spanish-language Ferrell film is to play things a little more straight, to make a film where Ferrell's presence is the punchline to the rest of the film's deadpan delivery, so to see Piedmont direct the film exactly like Ferrell's American comedies is pretty disappointing.
If all the viewer wants out of a comedy is random, unconnected laughs which have as much resonance in context as they will in a year chopped up and illegally uploaded to YouTube, then Casa De Mi Padre will certainly deliver at least a little of that. There's no denying I enjoyed a reasonable amount of the film, and it's as advertised -- Will Ferrell actually speaks pretty damn good Spanish, and everybody seems to be having a good time poking fun at themselves. But there's no build, no finesse, no structure; it's less a movie than it is a joke book. A Spanish joke book.
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