Casa de mi Padre fails to meet potential

It should have been hilarious. With excessive stylization, English subtitles and Hollywood comedian Will Ferrell, Casa de mi Padre had the potential to be the next Talladega Nights or Blades of Glory. Unfortunately, the film was only mildly amusing.

Director Matt Piedmont’s latest picture is a caricature of a Spanish soap opera. The story takes place in rural Mexico where ranchero Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) struggles to improve his cowardly image as he stands up to his drug-dealing brother, Raul (Diego Luna).

Parody · Armando (Will Ferrell, left) and Raul (Diego Luna, right) star in Casa de mi Padre as brothers competing for the affection of Raul’s fiancee. Though the film plays with cliché genre conventions, it fails to get serious laughs. - Photo courtesy of John Estes

As Alvarez proclaims his love of the land and the importance of family honor, he falls for the beautiful Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), who happens to be his brother’s fiancee and the coveted love object of the powerful drug lord, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Through a series of incidents that don’t further the plot, Alvarez makes his way to Onza’s mansion to win back his woman and his name in a bloody Mexican standoff.

Through movies like Step Brothers, Zoolander and Anchorman, Ferrell has proved that “stupidly funny” works — a movie does not have to possess an intricate plot or highbrow jokes to captivate audiences. But Casa de mi Padre misses even the idiotically comical and only incites a faint smile among viewers rather than genuine laughter.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment where the film fails to be truly hilarious, particularly since it sets itself up so nicely.

For starters, the entire picture is in Spanish, which forces the audience to rely on subtitles to convey the intentionally cheesy dialogue. This is somewhat intriguing, especially because Ferrell stands out among the largely Hispanic cast.

Ferrell uses the language well as he emphasizes certain universally understood phrases to inspire laughter. He holds his own against the other Spanish-speaking actors and keeps an intense expression plastered on his face to mock a soap opera’s usual intensity. Though his delivery is entertaining, the lines are uninteresting, which leaves the movie unquotable even for Spanish speakers.

Still, the exaggerated genres should have made the film hilarious. By mixing action with steamy romance, Casa de mi Padre has the potential to poke fun at usual film conventions and break the rules even as it relies on them. Unfortunately, the movie seems unsure of itself and lacks the technique necessary for a successful parody.

In some of the more violent scenes, the actors take time with bloody deaths, writhing and squirming in an unrealistic way that should be funny, but only seems trite. In sequences reminiscent of a gangster film, drug-dealers casually smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol as they aim guns at their opponents, using the icons of the “mobster figure” in a way that seems out of place. These gestures at satire might be a little amusing, but they mostly appear awkward.

Casa de mi Padre also confuses itself with unnecessary subplots. In an attempt to create a drug war between Raul and the Onza, racist American secret agent (Nick Offerman) teams up with a corrupt Mexican officer (Manuel Urrego). Though this element of the story provides one solid joke — the American agent attempts to speak Spanish with a realistic and comical accent — it proves tiresome, especially when the film fails to truly resolve it by the end.

Instead of figuring out a way to incorporate the characters into the final battle scene, the movie deals with its pointless subplot in the last five minutes of the film, relying on an annoying series of deus ex machinas that leave the audience confused and dissatisfied.

One thing the film does do well, however, is make fun of itself. Aware of its corny dialogue and stereotypical premise, Casa de mi Padre intentionally calls attention to itself as a low-budget, unintelligent picture. There are animatronic animals, product placements and second-rate special effects that make the unabashed cheesiness hilarious.

At one point in the film, Ferrell and Rodriguez, pretending to ride horses, rock back and forth as a forged backdrop of a landscape rolls past, conveying movement for the stationary actors. Later, Ferrell and his two sidekicks (played by Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez) drive on a highway on a search for Raul. The film immediately cuts to a miniature model of a Mexican town where toy cars simulate the travel of the gang. At these points, Casa de mi Padre succeeds with ingenious humor.

Nevertheless, the film falls short of being comically memorable and doesn’t stand out among Ferrell’s other work.