Will Ferrell, portraying Armando Alvarez, left, and Diego Luna, portraying Raul Alvarez, in a scene from "Casa De Mi Padre." / John Estes/Lionsgate
'Casa de Mi Padre'
Three stars (out of four)
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Three stars (out of four)
You expect the big joke in "Casa de Mi Padre" to involve Will Ferrell mangling the Spanish language. Instead, the movie is funny because of just how commendable the actor's Spanish is.
That bait-and-switch move is pretty indicative of the entire film. When you expect it to go in one direction, it goes off in another. Most of the time, that clever element of surprise pays off.
Ferrell is Armando Alvarez, who lives and works on his father's ranch in Mexico. Armando is hard-working, honest and naive — some might even call him stupid, like his father (character actor Pedro Armendariz Jr., who died after filming).
Armando's wealthy younger brother, Raul (a delightful Diego Luna), returns home, along with Sonia, his beautiful fiancee (Genesis Rodriguez). Anyone who has sat through a Mexican narcotraficante movie will know where Raul has made his money, thanks to his stereotypically flashy jewelry and clothing.
Of course, the Alvarez brothers also have to deal with the local drug lord, La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), who has some mysterious connections to Sonia, whom, by the way, Armando is starting to fall for.
If it sounds as complex as your typical telenovela, well, that's the point. Although the movie instantly recalls "Grindhouse" with its washed-out look and intentionally scratched film print, it takes square aim at Mexican soap operas, as well as such south-of-the-border genres as drug-trafficking action flicks and '70s Westerns.
Writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont (both "Saturday Night Live" veterans) have come up with plenty of bits that will keep film buffs laughing. There are rear projection shots that are continuously repeated. Outdoor sequences are obviously shot on indoor sets, with mismatched backdrops. Continuity errors abound; in one scene Raul smokes a cigarette, a cigar and a cigarillo within minutes.
There is also a hilarious sex scene that involves a mannequin body double. Why? Don't ask, which seems to be the guiding principle to a lot of what is seen here. That includes a hallucinatory sequence involving a white mountain lion or a closing-credit bit that looks like something from the Mexican variety show "Siempre en Domingo" circa 1972.
The movie is laugh-out-loud funny and strange, and it works because the actors are playing it so straight. There is never a moment in which Ferrell breaks character, for example. And while his Spanish may have an American accent, his performance isn't that far removed from what you'd see on a Telemundo soap.
On the other hand, one wonders how much of the movie will connect with audiences who may be unfamiliar with just what is being spoofed. For instance, Jose Luis Rodriguez, a household name in the Spanish-language world, makes a cameo appearance as a wedding singer. Is the gag funny if you don't know who El Puma (Rodriguez's nickname) is? ¿Quien sabe? Still, the movie's inventiveness and sheer silliness should be enough to please Ferrell's big following.