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'Casa de Mi Padre': In defense of Will Ferrell's silliest (and craziest) movie yet

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Dos hermanos — Amando álvarez (Ferrell) and brother Raúl (Luna) in a scene from Casa de mi Padre.

Casa de mi Padre, Will Ferrell's first Spanish-language movie, opened Friday to lackluster reviews, and I wonder: what were those riotous laughs at South by Southwest's premiere on March 13? Who were those people? How is it I walked for 30 minutes after the movie ended looking for someone who hadn't liked the movie and couldn't find a one?

Ferrell's being hanged for daring to make an unconventional movie no one wanted to make. But the laughter in evidence when I saw it — even when there was apparently nothing going on onscreen — suggests there is room in Hollywood for Spanish and subtitles, God save us. Some have hinted those who like this film are probably telenovela fans, but that's a b.s. argument — I hate telenovelas, and I loved this film.

The movie is a mix of Mexican '60s and '70s films and soap operas, John Ford westerns, Sam Peckinpah violence, Alejandro Jodorowski's magic psychedelia, and Saturday Night Live at its silliest (fake animals, miniature cars, bogus backdrops). It starts with epic Leone-meets-Tarantino opening credits and features needless music videos thrown into the mix, B-movie continuity problems, shameless overacting and deliberate closeups (a bloody white rose after a massacre, a cop's sunglasses revealing a member of the filming crew eating a sandwich). It's a sloppy manipulative mess, but I enjoyed every single second of it.

The plot is simple, and the movie's very basic premise could not have been more ridiculous: Will Ferrell as a Mexican. As the son of Miguel Ernesto Álvarez (legendary Mexican movie icon Pedro Armendáriz Jr., who died in December, in his final role), Ferrell is the dumb progeny who falls for his brother's fiancée and who has an over-the-top life-changing experience that enables him to become a hero and save the day for his family. Still skeptical? Ask yourself, if Mitt Romney has a shot at becoming our first "Hispanic" president, why can't Ferrell say "No, señor ... No hablo americano"?

As Ferrell's drug-dealing brother, Diego Luna nearly steals the show as the "smart" brother. "[Mexico] will grow tremendously thanks to the USA's addictions," he says at one point, in one of many examples of the movie's exploitation of old stereotypes (women are dumb sex objects, Mexicans sell drugs, and Americans are "shit-eating crazy monster babies").

Among the many rules broken in the production is good cowboy Armando wearing a black hat, and bad narco "La Onza" ("the Ounce," in an effective light-hearted turn by Gael García Bernal) wearing white. The only scene shared by old pals García Bernal and Luna (they starred in Y tu mamá también together) is the comedic equivalent of the scene in Heat where Robert De Niro and Al Pacino finally meet.

The movie was written in bad English, translated into bad Spanish by a Mexican who served as Ferrell's diction coach, and the actor learned his lines phonetically. The result is more authentic than Spanish attempts by critically acclaimed shows like Breaking Bad that often use actors who obviously can't speak Spanish to pass as Mexicans. And even when the Spanish wasn't perfect ("Casa de mi Padre," for example, should be "La Casa de mi Padre") and some protested, the crew came to the rescue.

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