To paraphrase the opening voice over of Casa de mi Padre: if it sounds like Spanish and looks Spanish, then it is a Spanish movie. I was immediately squinting at the screen wondering "Who are they trying to convince?" After 90 minutes of lukewarm telenovela satire that generated about two fewer smirks than my recent conversation with a bank teller, I think the answer is everyone.
Parody is tough. Anyone funny who has arrogantly charged into one and experienced how difficult that delicate balance is to achieve can agree with that. Although Casa is well-researched and knows the conventions of the genre, it's still missing something (other than laughs, I mean). Sure, Will Ferrell is speaking flawless Spanish and wearing a lot of cowboy shirts because he is a poor ranchero with a fat head. Of course his father (telenovela star Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) holds a grudge against him, and loves his smarmy younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) more. And yes, Raul has a stunning fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) whose mere presence on the screen creates beads of sweat on your forehead. It should have added up to something muy dramático y divertido…but instead of being dramatic and funny, it comes within sight of the border of genius, but takes a smoke break instead of making a run for it.
Gael Garcia Bernal is also around as La Onza, the territorial drug dealer who doesn't play nice when Raul shows up to invade his territory. Ever the one-dimensional villain, he smokes several cigarettes at once and congratulates his cronies for making dick jokes just before killing someone. Nick Offerman plays a racist American cop, and Efren Ramirez (Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) hangs around with a bandanna around his neck making bug eyes at Sonia. Even with all this potential, the movie never gels. Every line feels forced, or exactly where you expect them to go. There's nothing absurd or edgy about this script because it's too close to the real thing, with all of its family fights, earnest heroes, and misunderstood women. There is a mystical white leopard for Will Ferrell to connect to spiritually, though, because animated sequences with animals are part of why we (I?) love him as an actor.
All the elements are there--shoddily painted backdrops, incorrect continuity, and missing scenes. However, everyone's so busy dusting cobwebs off old jokes, they seem to forget that it's the seriousness with which telenovelas take themselves that make them a guilty pleasure. That's what makes them funny and endearing to watch even if you can't speak a word of Spanish. Instead of hunting this one down, spend money and time on the blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite, that really understands how to make a joke out of the familiar. Heck, you're even better off catching the 30 Rock storyline from season three featuring Los Amantes Clandestinos--Alec Baldwin has a nice Spanish trill, too.