Will Ferrell is one of my favorite comic actors and a big part of the reason is his willingness to do almost anything. It’s almost as if his whole career strategy could be summed up with “why not?” Case in point; this week I rented a recent film Ferrell made that’s all in Spanish, and subtitled. In anticipation of your next question, no, Will Ferrell doesn’t speak Spanish. “Casa de mi Padre” is a spoof, of sorts, of Mexican thrillers from the seventies and eighties, with a little telenovela feel mixed in. I can see clearly how this film came to be: Ferrell and a buddy are sitting on a couch eating potato chips, flipping through the channels. They happen on a Mexican soap opera and let the show play for a few minutes.
“Man, these things are terrible! They’re hilarious!” one of them exclaims. “Let’s make one!” comes the answer. Why, you may ask? Why not?
“Casa” is the often very funny, if somewhat uneven tale of one Armando Alvarez, a simple rancher who, as portrayed by Ferrell with hair dyed black, must save his family’s reputation by taking on an evil drug dealer and his minions. When brother Raul, much loved by a father who considers the loyal and steadfast Armando a bit of a dolt, returns with a beautiful fiance, it soon becomes obvious he is mixed up in the narcotics business and business is going to come back to bite. Complicating things is the fact that Armando is in love with Raul’s girl, Sophia. Sparks fly, as do manly insults and bullets galore. “Casa de mi Padre” is a rollercoaster ride of gunplay, hilariously overdone dialogue, cheesy backdrops and animatronic panthers. What more could one ask for in an evening with Will Ferrell?
I was actually surprised at how much I liked “Casa.” I know I’m a Will Ferrell fan, but this project is a stretch even for him. I was reminded of the trainwreck that was “Grindhouse,” the big-budget exercise in meticulous niche filmmaking attempted by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino a few years ago. Just because you find cheesy old movies funny, there’s nothing to guarantee that anyone is going to slap down ten bucks to relive the experience with you. There are a lot of similarities between “Casa” and “Grindhouse.” The attention to detail, for example, including the attempt to recreate signature deficiencies from the original source material. At one point in “Casa,” Armando, Raul, their father, and Sonia are having a heated argument in the living room of the family home. The screenwriter wants us to assume that the actor playing Raul was not available on the day they shot the scene, so he is shown standing in an obviously different room and never interacting directly with the other actors. Later, when Sonia is required to cross the room to stand by Raul’s side, she appears in the scene with him, entering from the wrong side, wearing a different costume than she had been a moment before. It’s a pretty funny scene, and clever, but too much of this gets old quick. At least here, Ferrell and company are employing these tropes to get a laugh, as opposed to Quentin Tarantino who digitally scratched his film, over-exposed it, and deliberately left out whole reels just to show us all how smart he is.
The technical reminders of “Casa’s” origins - the obvious backdrops, the bad puppetry, the nude mannequin that doubles as Armando’s love interest in the one steamy scene in the film, are funny, but I think would ultimately serve to sink the film instead of save it, if it were not for some excellent comic performances. Ferrell is great as Armando Alvarez, and I was especially impressed that he could bring his signature style, oblivious and self-effacing with barely controlled anger just below the surface, to a foreign language. Unless someone told you, as I did at the beginning of this article, you’d never know Will Ferrell couldn’t speak Spanish. Also very good are Diego Luna as Raul and Gael García Bernal as the nefarious drug dealer Onza. Not only are they hilariously over the top, but it’s nice to see the two back together after they helped spark a resurgence in Hispanic cinema with their surprise hit “Y Tu Mamá También.”
“Casa de mi Padre” is a bit of surprise and a welcome respite from a summer of blockbusters that have been one disappointment after another. Yes, it’s uneven and a little bit of a mess. Yes, some of it drags, even though the film is only an economical eighty-four minutes long. But overall it’s funny, and sweet, and nothing but a silly little lark. Basically, Will Ferrell and his buddies are inviting you to come sit on the couch with them and make fun of some bad movies. Why not? Grade: B
“Casa de mi Padre” is rated R for violence, language, sexual situations, and nudity.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.