Film Review: Casa de Mi Padre

If the idea of Will Ferrell speaking Spanish seems like enough to sustain an entire feature, this eccentric but flat comedy is for you.

Throughout its four-decade run, “Saturday Night Live” has been riddled with sketches that seem like private jokes—offbeat conceits the cast and writers find endlessly amusing despite their narcotizing effect on the home viewer. (Garth and Kat, anyone?) Casa de Mi Padre, the audaciously odd vehicle devised by “SNL” alum turned movie star Will Ferrell, feels just like one of those lame, self-amused sketches, mercilessly padded out to feature length. Written and directed, respectively, by former “SNL” scribes Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, Casa is not without the occasional madcap gag that might tickle undemanding viewers. But eccentricity alone does not make a satisfying farce.

“I always had the notion of doing a Spanish-language comedy,” Ferrell confides in the press notes, as if the idea of a non-Latino American performing in a different language would be enough to entertain an audience for 84 minutes. Aside from some high-school classes, Ferrell didn’t really speak Spanish until this film, so he does get credit for a work ethic that enables him to say the dialogue awkwardly but with enough conviction to seem as if he really understands his popular Mexican co-stars, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. But perfection would have been beside the point; Casa de Mi Padre (or “House of My Father”) is a deliberate goof on cheesy telenovelas and westerns made on a shoestring. The movie is designed to be tacky, and tacky it is.

For what it’s worth, Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a Mexican rancher always in the shadow of his much-adored younger brother, Raul (Luna). Raul is not only a successful businessman, but has brought home a gorgeous new fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), with whom Armando is instantly smitten. Yet Raul’s prosperity has a dangerous connection—powerful drug lord Onza (Bernal). As the Alvarez family faces calamity, will ne’er-do-well Armando rise to the occasion and emerge a hero? Does it really matter?

The filmmakers go out of their way to shatter the fourth wall, with patently obvious rear projection, phony horses and other prop animals, and even intrusions by the movie’s faux Mexican creator. (Perhaps the movie’s best visual joke is the crew members spotted in the reflection of one character’s sunglasses.) There’s a mystical (and also blatantly fake) white mountain lion, a hallucinatory sequence, a campfire song interlude, a sex scene (presumably with body doubles) curiously fixated on naked butt-stroking, and a predictably Peckinpah-like climactic shootout. Certain illegal substances may aid your appreciation of the movie’s scattershot humor—or help you forget the whole thing.

Casa de Mi Padre is dedicated to the late Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., who plays the patriarch of the title and whose career encompassed such Hollywood films as The Mask of Zorro, Old Gringo and License to Kill. It’s not exactly a dignified tribute, but let’s hope he had a good time slumming with Farrell and company.