Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Esta Peculio es Tonto

Every once in a while, Will Ferrell gets a new idea of what being funny actually is, and he just runs with it. Some of the time, the result is wonderfully awesome, in the vein of the incredulous Anchorman or the sweet and sincere Stranger than Fiction. Sometimes he doesn't quite hit where he was intending, resulting in head-scratchers like Bewitched and Land of the Lost. More often than not though, he can and will make you laugh, a trait he has proven well since the moment he debuted on Saturday Night Live back in 1995. Lately, though, the funny hasn't been as frequent. Megamind was a hit, and The Other Guys was funny (although I don't get how that film cost more to make than The Hunger Games). And any time Ferrell makes an appearance it causes a stir that people will talk about for days. But what was with Everything Must Go, the okay-but-not-great drama that nobody paid attention to last year? I'm not sure what was more confusing there; that Ferrell performed a serious role, or that nobody seemed to care. This was the kind of job that garnered Bill Murray a Best Actor nomination in 2003, but barely registered a blip in 2011. Now Ferrell is trying to get back into comedy, aiming for a parody of popular Telenovelas with his new film Casa de mi Padre. Spoken almost entirely in Spanish and very much harboring a singularly retro style, the only question is whether Ferrell could transition back to comedy with the same energy that made Anchorman one of my all-time favorite comedies.

"Esta es mi 'Boom-Stick!'"
Mild-mannered Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) works on his father's cattle ranch, and he carries a deep love for the land and the work he does, despite being thought of as stupid by his father (Pedro Armendariz, Jr). When his younger, favored Raul brother (Diego Luna) returns from working in the city, he brings home more than just fiance Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). He also delivers the wrath of a drug cartel run by the nefarious Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) onto their heads, and in the end it is up to the hitherto unreliable Armando Alvarez to protect his family and the whole of Mexico from the drug problems that ravage it.

"No, no he inicio llama Ron Burgundy."
As I stated before, the film takes a lot of inspiration from Mexican Telenovelas, short television series that have a definite beginning and end. Unlike a large number of American TV shows, a Telenovela is rarely more than one year, and is never re-upped if ratings are high enough. Playing out like many modern soap operas, they aim to draw in their audiences with strong characters, relationships and out-of-nowhere plot twists. Casa de mi Padre parodies this by presenting itself as a low-budget variation of this show, mixed perhaps with a dash of Spaghetti Westerns. The cheap-feeling nature in which it was created actually sets up some of the film's funniest moments, as obvious cuts due to these "budget issues" are among the best the movie has to offer, from Genesis Rodriguez' inability to mount a horse to Ferrell picking up a live calf before showing it to be a stuffed animal when he turns around.

Su mente está en su dinero y su dinero está en su mente.
As usual for a Will Ferrell movie, the main reason to see Casa de mi Padre is... Will Ferrell. As he does in just about every film he makes, Ferrell completely throws himself into the character of Armando Alvarez, learning Spanish to fully immerse himself in the role. Though there will no doubt be criticism as to his pronunciation, I thought he did a fine job, and perfectly captured the internal drama while externalizing it, playing up the melodrama of the script and never breaking character or the fourth wall. There are other good performances as well, though most of them are expected and not as surprising as Ferrell. Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal are little known to most American audiences but are entertaining as Armando's beloved brother and a notorious drug lord, respectively.. Even better is Genesis Rodriguez, who already impressed me with her Hollywood debut in this year's Man on a Ledge. Though she does little more than play Ferrell's love interest, Rodriguez draws upon her experience with Telenovelas to overact in every scene, which in this type of environment is actually to great effect. I'm personally looking forward to what she brings to her next big role, that of an FBI agent in Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to action Last Stand, due out next year. And Nick Offerman makes another hilarious appearance, as the Parks and Recreations star soaks up some sunlight playing a crooked DEA agent.

No tengo nada divertido que decir aquí. Ella es muy bonita.
Unfortunately, the comedy train doesn't last. Or arrive very often. While the intentionally low-budget look of Casa de mi Padre does generate some laughs, they aren't Ferrell's usual gut-busting kind. The laughter the film generates is more the "clever chuckle" variety, and not all that much, as it turns out. Too often there are moments where the filmmakers REALLY wanted something to be funny, but fail to come through and actually MAKE us laugh. As to the lack of funny material, this is almost certainly the fault of director Matt Piedmont, for whom Casa represents his feature film debut. Ferrell recommended him highly from his days as a writer on SNL and with Ferrell on the Funny or Die website, but his brand of skit humor doesn't quite translate to the big screen, or at least it doesn't here. It's obvious he just wasn't in command of the film, and he might need some more work on TV before I'd trust a another title under his tutelage. Unfortunately it's too late for Casa, which fizzles out without a strong hand to guide it to success, or at least decency.

Porque cada película basada en México deben tener un número musical.
That ultimately leads Casa de mi Padre to become among the worst films I've seen this year. It's difficult to criticize a film like this too harshly, as its obviously begging to not be taken all that seriously. However, when the funny (or lack thereof) feels like it's being squeezed from a stone, it's hard to care enough about what little actually works when so much does not. When the only film worse than you so far this year is the Ghost Rider sequel, it's obvious that mistakes were made. However, unlike Nicolas Cage, I'm at least reasonably convinced that Will Ferrell's next effort will make up for this transgression. He's a talented comedian, and I'll be happy to check out his next work as soon as it becomes available.

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