CASA DE MI PADRE (Two Stars)
U.S.-Mexico; Matt Piedmont, 2012
In Casa de mi Padre, Will Ferrell and some friends from Mexico, including those two talented fugitives from Y ti mama tambien, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal — make fun of bad Mexican movies. Their target is a big one: bad Mexican cinema in general, especially lurid telenovela serials about obsessive romance and family intrigue and dark dirty secrets: dumb shows that soak up time and rot the brains of couch potatoes south and north of the border. It’s a comedy that tries to look stupid and succeeds,
Give Ferrell credit. He approaches the project with real De Niro-like determination, playing his entire part in Spanish — a language that he had to learn phonetically for the role. But though he does a typically good Ferrell job of playing a vacuous dolt (like his Saturday Night Live George W. Bush, a classic), in this case the movie often proves too dumb for its own good.
Ferrell, his beady eyes clouded in vacuous doltdom, the words chewing in his mouth like big juicy burritos of addled sentiment. plays the majestically foolish, buttock-fondling Armando Alvarez, a doofus, a virgin and a lousy rancher who — as Ferrell imagines him — is also being played by a lousy actor. Armando (who lost his mother as a boy to his own stupidity), now roams the range of El Rancho de mi Padre, in the grandeur of MexicoScope, with his two dopey sidekicks Esteban and Manuel (Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez). These range scamps hide behind rocks watching drug executions by the evil fashion plate drug fealer Onza (Bernal), and engage in dopey sidekick high jinks.
Armando’s father, Don Ernesto Miguel (played by the late Pedro Armendariz, Jr., son of the old John Ford stock company stalwart who costarred in The Fugitive and Three Godfathers), thinks he’s a buffoon. His brother Raul (Luna) — who has returned to the rancho to pay off their debts by dealing dope like Onza — thinks he’s a lovable fool. His brother’s knockout fiancee, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), thinks he’s sort of cute. Indeed, she seems unaccountably attracted to Armando, possibly because he’s the star of the movie.
The rest of the cast actually keep catching up to the El Dopo levels of Armando’s deliberately witless histrionics. Even though they’re mostly Hispanic and can speak the language without cheat sheets or teleprompters, almost everybody in Casa de mi Padre acts as if they’ve learned their parts phonetically. They also seem to be trying desperately to keep from breaking up into helpless laughter as they say their lines. (The audience, unfortunately, mostly doesn’t share their dilemma.)
That Casa de mi ensemble includes the movie’s most unusual character (other than Armando): a stuffed snow leopard who drops by occasionally to peer at Armando and his Two Stoogelitos and offer pearls of wisdom. (In this context any half-grammatical sentence of five words or less that contains a complete thought might qualify as a pearl of wisdom. Examples: “Life is a snow leopard‘” “Life is a telenovela‘” “A telenovela is life,” “I’ll have huevos rancheros with salsa,“ and “Armando is a buffoon.” ) At the end of the movie, Dan Haggerty (of Grizzly Adams ) shows up and suggests we all have a joint — something he doesn’t seem to have learned phonetically.
The movie was written by Andrew Steele (of Saturday Night Live), directed by Matt Piedmont (of Saturday Night Live) and of course stars Will Ferrell (of Saturday Night Live) — and it might probably star more SNL alumni if they’d been willing to learn their parts phonetically. It’s almost all in Spanish, except for Haggerty as Grizzly and Nick Offerman as a villanous DEA agent, who seems to have wandered in from the SNL version of No Country for Old Men. It’s all subtitled. And I swear, as I looked around at the audience around me , they were laughing phonetically. But not very often.
I’ve never watched a telenovela, though I’ve skipped past what might have been a few (they were certainly bad enough) while channel-surfing. But I’ve got to say I don’t think this is a very good idea for a movie — even though the actors all seem to having fun, especially Haggerty. Most of us don’t know enough about telenovela conventions or bad Mexican cinema to catch all the jokes, and the movie doesn’t set them up for us too well.
We can tell Casa is supposed to be bad — when Ferrell and Rodrigez go rocking along on unseen but obviously fake horses before an out-of-synch moving background — or when a scene involving the snow leopard and some pearl of wisdom is interrupted by a long foolish confession (supposedly from the 2nd assistant cameraman), that the sequence with the snow leopard had to be scotched for accidental destruction or ineptitude — such surpassing ineptitude that it couldn‘t even be shown in a movie that uses fake horses. (It would have been funnier if the 2nd assistant had gone on camera and confessed, but fallen out of the frame when the drunken third assistant cameraman dropped the camera and passed out, on the snow leopard.)
Anyway, when good actors play bad actors giving bad performances in a bad movie, there’s a thin line — between bad and good and bad-good or good-bad. One can appreciate the subtle self-effacing skill involved in bad-as-good movie-making and acting. But aren’t these people taking away work from genuinely bad actors? In genuinely bad movies like, say, Casa Nine de mi Padre from Outer Space or Armando and Armanda or The Snow Leopard Speaks? Is this fair?
I have an idea. Why not take this same excellent cast and make a comedy about a cut-rate Tijuana movie company, tryong to crack the American Spanish-speaking market, who hire an arrogant, egotistical, dull-witted American actor (played by W. F.) who has to learn his part phonetically and who keeps screwing up his lines and whenever he forgets them, yells “Huevos Rancheros! Cojones! Cojones!“ The cast of the movie, called Casa de Huevos Rancheros, or maybe Casa de mi Cojones, would be a threadbare group including a phony dope dealer who hides his dope in a stuffed snoe leopard, played by Bernal, the preoccupied director played by Fred Willard, and costarring Genesis Rodriguez and her sisters Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. .
By the way, I wrote this review phonetically. I bet you couldn’t tell.