The best Will Ferrell comedies are the ones you want to watch over and over again — the ones that you quote ad nauseum with friends after a few too many brews. Old School. Anchorman. Step Brothers. Casa de Mi Padre does not fit in with that legacy. I’ll probably never watch it again and, with almost no knowledge of Spanish, I couldn’t quote it even if I wanted to.
Ferrell plays Armando, a hapless ranch hand for his father Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), who is thrust into the middle of a gang turf war when his drug-smuggling brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with his fiancee Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), who just so happens to be the niece of a rival kingpin named Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
To pay any more attention to the plot would be to miss the point altogether. Ostensibly, this isn’t about Ferrell and company bringing some sort of bizarro telenovela to a broader American audience. It’s about plopping Ferrell alongside a cast of native Spanish speakers and having him go all in with them (and, naturally, bumble his way through the Spanish language). If it helps, think of Casa de Mi Padre as a comedic answer to the handful of recent pulpy tributes to B-movies of the 1970s like Machete and the Grindhouse double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof.
The gags, in that sense, are pretty one-note. There is Ferrell’s mangled Spanish, contrasted with the fluency of his co-stars. The subtitles are deliberately translated poorly. Poor production values abound; my two favorite were the clearly stuffed jaguar that features prominently in one of Armando’s visions and the horse-on-wheels effect when Armando and Sonia go for a ride on the ranch.
Because that’s pretty much the depth and breadth of the film, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I was expecting to (in fairness, I’m always expecting to laugh heartily when I see Ferrell and I’d estimate he delivers only two-thirds of the time). That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself. What Casa de Mi Padre lacks in gut-busters, it makes up for in admirable qualities. Ferrell doesn’t blink, but that’s to be expected. What I found surprising was the commitment of the supporting cast; Bernal and Luna brought an authenticity that made things memorable, if not exactly classic.
I’m not sure I quite understand why Casa de Mi Padre was a feature-length film, and not a Saturday Night Live sketch about a decade ago. Even at a mere 84 minutes, the premise felt stretched to its limit. But since it is, I’ll just say I appreciate what Ferrell and company tried to do here all the same, even if I won’t be spitting out lines verbatim from it years down the road.
Screening Room Rating: 7 out of 10