REVIEW: Madre de Dios! Will Ferrell and Co. Make Casa de Mi Padre One Long, Perfunctory Inside Joke
For a movie with a comedic premise this simple – essentially: can you believe we made a movie with a premise this simple? – Casa de Mi Padre can feel pretty exhausting. Its comic arsenal is laid bare by the end of the credits sequence: There is Will Ferrell playing a Mexican ranchero and speaking Spanish; Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as narco peacocks; telenovela melodrama played absurdly straight; self-conscious B-budget goofing; and plenty of guns and flames for ambiance. Are you not entertained?
A credits sequence or SNL sketch or Funny Or Die video is the natural habitat for this kind of hit-and-run goof. Conan O’Brien, playing the fiery Conando, made his telenovela riff Noches de Pasión a regular feature on his show a few years back, and a few minutes is really all it takes to get the job done. Ferrell has worked with his collaborators – director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele – at both SNL and Funny or Die, and like last year’s Your Highness, Casa de Mi Padre has the feeling of a very inside joke. The story of how the cowardly dupe Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) defends his family from drug-war fallout is told in terms so self-consciously broad that the “joke” becomes obscure again, suggesting that rarefied sense of what’s funny that comedians often develop after a couple of decades on the job.
For most of the rest of us it quickly becomes a struggle to find – or desperately root out – humor in much of the re-heated genre spoofing. The house of the title belongs to Miguel (Pedro Armendáriz Jr., who passed away this December), father to Armando and the prodigal Raul (Luna), who returns home at the beginning of the film with a fiancée to die for named Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). When it turns out that Raul has actually made his fortune running drugs, he earns the scorn of his brother and a bounty on his head, levied by fellow drug lord Onza (Bernal). Armando and Sonia clamp eyes on each other frequently and for long, fraught moments: Is she the worthless coke whore she seems to be or the woman of his dreams?
Ferrell is eminently silly as a Latin buffoon with “the eyes of a small chicken” and a heart of gold, and Luna and Bernal are as fun to watch in polyester leisure suits as they are out of them. A blend of location shooting and obvious sets contribute – along with purposefully jumpy edits and one long memo from the second camera assistant explaining the omission of a coyote attack – to the general celebration of shitty aesthetics. There are also boisterous campfire songs about the joy of knowing nothing, mildly subversive slaps at the DEA and an America full of drug-hoovering babies, lavish shoot 'em ups that linger over the explosion of visible blood packets, and one love scene comprised of extensive butt-kneading and Ferrell’s seamless transition into mannequin form and back again.
Every once in a while a laugh might take you by surprise – the chicken eyes line did it for me – but the downfall of this kind of long-con comedy is that too often its terminal drollery feels like having the same joke explained to you, over and over again. At the same time the ironic layering feels tiresome rather than intuitively clever or witty, adding barriers between you and the funny part. Ferrell and company reportedly made the Hispanic audience – a huge moviegoing market – a big part of the plan of making and selling Casa de Mi Padre. Weirdly, that kind of calculation feels completely in line with a comedy that manages to be both as “crazy” and as perfunctory as this one.