Second-Rate on Purpose

In 'Casa de Mi Padre,' Will Ferrell finally seems fully comfortable being Will Ferrell

If you happened to watch Super Bowl XLVI in North Platte, Neb., you would have seen a beer commercial that nobody else caught until the ad was released on YouTube the next morning. In it, Will Ferrell walks through a soybean field accompanied by no less than Aaron Copland's majestic "Fanfare for the Common Man." About 27 seconds into the ad, someone tosses him a can of Old Milwaukee from off-screen. Ferrell opens it and says "Old Mi—." And the commercial goes black. The end.

It is a perfect send-up of million-dollar Super Bowl ads, part of a campaign of self-produced commercials he offered to make for the brewery, free of charge, that only run in small Midwest towns like North Platte and Davenport, Iowa. And honestly, they're some of the best work he's done in a while.

After tasting bitter defeat in trying to mainstream his comedy, Will Ferrell now tastes Old Milwaukee. Because it's stupid. Because it's funny. And because he just doesn't give a shit.

If that doesn't prove it, then Casa de Mi Padre has to. The comedian came up with the idea to make a threadbare homage to over-the-top Mexican television several years ago, and even if the big jokes fall flat more often than not, this is still a perfectly outlandish idea that has more than its share of stupid little moments. So, then, it falls somewhere between "doesn't give a shit" and just "shit."

Ferrell, speaking Spanish, plays Armando, the less-favored son of a Mexican land baron. He's not bright or motivated or interesting. By all rights, he should be enjoying a good life, but he's still herding cattle on the massive family ranch. His brother Raul (Diego Luna) drives expensive cars, sells (and dips into) expensive drugs, and makes time with expensive-looking women. His current girlfriend is the impossibly caliente Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and she is the root of Raul's troubles. Well, that and the drugs.

It seems that Sonia used to be on the arm of Onza (Gael García Bernal), the area's drug kingpin, so Raul has now moved in on his turf twice. When a gang war ensues, Armando feels he is duty-bound to save Sonia from this wretched life. And, yes—this is all supposed to make you laugh.

To make light of the grim circumstances, Ferrell and his hand-picked filmmakers (director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele are both Saturday Night Live and Funny or Die alumni) cut every corner imaginable, and some that aren't, to give Casa de Mi Padre a cheap and anachronistic look and feel. In a dining-room scene, one of the characters is played by a mannequin, which pops up later in a crowd scene at a wedding. The movie doesn't pay it any extra attention; it's just there. A mystical white mountain cat, which holds some powerful secret meaning to Armando, is portrayed by ... a giant stuffed animal.

Of course, the big hurdle here is: How far can the cheap-filmmaking approach take you? Ferrell does not look for a lot of punch lines, and even the silliness within each scene is surrounded by gunplay and heightened tension. So, in a way, Casa de Mi Padre is never any funnier than a description of the movie would be. It's more of an experiment in comedy than an actual comedy.

Ferrell's Spanish, which he apparently learned in about three weeks, is surprisingly good. He wouldn't make a great translator or anything, but given the forced nature of everything in the film, his guest language fits right in. He even sings a couple of songs en español, and those are among the highlights.

The only real downer is that this is apparently the best offer coming in for Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. Cast mates in Y Tu Mamá También a decade ago, their careers—particularly that of the immensely gifted Garcia Bernal—seem to have idled.

Casa de Mi Padre is the kind of movie that defies strict criticism: How can any of it be taken seriously when so much of it is deliberately second-rate? It really goes back to what you think of the initial concept. Though the film may never rise above the idea of making a cheap Mexican melodrama, at least someone thought to make it in the first place. Is it Anchorman or even the Old Milwaukee commercials? Hardly. But it beats seeing another Land of the Lost. So maybe that's the takeaway: Will Ferrell has finally become comfortable being Will Ferrell, and perhaps he'll abandon bigger, mainstream projects. Couldn't hurt.

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