Why am I writing about a Will Ferrell movie that played in our area for about five minutes last March? For several reasons: One is that it was just released on DVD. Another: In a season dominated by sequels and reboots, it’s a refreshing example of bizarro, go-for-broke originality. And then, of course, there’s the fact that The Dark Knight Rises was the only new film in theaters last weekend. One of us had to find something else to do.
I decided to check out this cultural curio to see what most moviegoers have been missing, and was glad I did. Though not for the reasons you might think. Ferrell here collaborates again with friend and coproducer Adam McKay, with whom he’s made some of the most widely embraced comedies of our time, including Anchorman and Talladega Nights. This isn’t one of them.
Casa de Mi Padre is, in fact, the opposite of a hit Hollywood comedy. And not just because it wasn’t a hit. An affectionate spoof of a Latin American TV genre few non-Latinos in this country will have encountered, filmed entirely in Spanish with subtitles, it comes off as an absurdist exercise in concept art rather than an attempt at mass entertainment. There are Dada masterworks more conventional than this.
Ferrell plays Armando, the older son of a proud rancher whose operation has fallen on hard times. The character is a Mexican variation on the movie man-child, so we are not surprised to learn that he’s somewhat slow witted and a virgin waiting for the right woman. She arrives when Armando’s brother, Raul (Diego Luna), returns, promising to restore the place to its former glory.
Armando’s ideal is Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez, a real-life Mexican soap star), the ravishing fiancée of Raul, a drug dealer who foolishly believes he can conceal this fact from his family. Here’s a gag representative of the picture’s understated tone: All the other members of the clan wear cowboy gear; Raul dresses like a character straight out of Scarface.
This being a parody of overwrought telenovelas, drama arrives from all directions. From the moment they meet, Armando and Sonia realize they were destined to be together. I don’t believe I’ll be accused of hyperbole when describing the consummation of their love as the weirdest sex scene in the history of popular film. It involves extreme close-ups of both performers’ buttocks and the use of mannequins as body doubles. David Lynch is kicking himself.
Trouble also takes the form of a local drug lord called La Onza, played by Luna’s Y Tu Mamá También costar, Gael García Bernal. He wants Raul off his turf and wields enough corrupt law-enforcement muscle to make even a fashion-backward cokehead think twice. Nick Offerman nails a small part as a dirty American cop.
Written by “Saturday Night Live” alum Andrew Steele and directed by “SNL” alum Matt Piedmont, Casa de Mi Padre can feel at times like another “SNL” sketch stretched to feature length. The film’s shortcomings are more than balanced, however, by its deliriously surreal touches: goofball musical interludes (some of which have gone viral); a vision quest led by an animatronic mountain lion especially designed by the Jim Henson Company to look like it was not designed by the Jim Henson Company; and countless riffs on the famously cheesy production values of Mexican soaps.
Easily the picture’s most surreal effect, though, is Ferrell himself. We’ve seen him play the meathead-with-a-heart-of-gold so often that we’ve made him the biggest name in movie comedy. How many such performers would devote themselves to a project this quixotic? Whether you get the joke that is Casa de Mi Padre or not, you’ve got to admire the guy. Clearly, he isn’t only in it for the pesos.
* Running time: 84 min.
* Rated: R