“Mexico is the bestico,” declares an incidental Casa de mi Padre character played by Molly Shannon as she raises her glass in a toast. That same tone of nonsensical joviality and dopey enthusiasm pervades the entire venture. Teetering between folly and genius, this Will Ferrell comedy masquerading as a Mexican soap opera-cum-horse opera unfortunately levels off somewhere near the undistinguished center. The film is amusing but not wildly funny. Neither is it facetious toward its roots, instead deriving most of its humor from simply placing the naturally funny Ferrell within its context. Director Matt Piedmont and screenwriter Andrew Steele are longtime cohorts of Ferrell’s from Saturday Night Live and Funny or Die, so they are well-familiarized with the comedian’s unique style.
Ferrell, who delivers all his lines in reasonably pronounced Spanish, is Armando, the doofus son of a wealthy Mexican ranch family. Armando, who is not terribly bright, is nevertheless loyal and loves the land but is overshadowed by his more successful brother Raul (Luna), who returns home with his beautiful fiancée, Sonia (Rodriguez) in tow. Unbeknownst to his family, Raul is involved in the drug trade and is locked in a turf war with the vicious drug lord La Onza (Bernal). Blood is being shed on the brothers’ ranch, which is still overseen by their father, Miguel Ernesto (Armendáriz Jr., the great Mexican actor who died in December, and to whom the film is dedicated).
The performances are all delivered in that highly wrought tenor of the classic telenovela, with overelongated emotional beats and earnest declarations. Backdrops are often patently fake as are some of the horse-riding sequences and obvious rear projections. A clearly taxidermied snow leopard frequently imparts nuggets of wisdom to dull-witted Armando. Scratches are added to the film stock à la Grindhouse, adding to its old-timey feel. Comedy emerges from the contrast between the contrived set décor and the matter-of-fact line deliveries. And Ferrell, god bless him, is a natural-born fool; he cannot help but be funny even when playing it straight in his cowboy attire and dour, unfavored-son countenance. He commits 100% to this film concept, and you cannot fault him for giving anything less. Still, the jokes are all of a similar kind, and are not so much repetitive as unvaried. The drug-dealing plot (which also includes Nick Offerman as a U.S. DEA agent) is unexciting and Armando’s burgeoning love for his brother’s betrothed is predictable and underdeveloped. More interesting than how well this high-concept, subtitled project plays for American filmgoers will be how it fares in Spanish-speaking countries, where audiences will be more familiar with the Mexican melodramatic style and, certainly, the language. Might Ferrell become the next Catinflas?