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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Casa de mi Padre

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.

One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Casa de mi Padre”

  1. SamLowry says:

    I’d pay to see your movie. Sounds like it might actually be funny!

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Wilmington

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas