Casa de Mi Padre
Is “Mexploitation” a thing? Alongside the Blaxploitation films of the ’70s were there low-to-no-budget Spanish-language movies with grindhouse plots designed to pull in Mexican audiences? If there weren’t in the ’70s, there is now, thanks to Will Ferrell and Casa de Mi Padre.
Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) is a cowboy working on his family’s ranch, along with his close friends Esteban (Efren Ramirez) and Manuel (Adrian Martinez). He’s also really, really dumb, which his father, Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) is not shy about mentioning. His absent brother, Raul (Diego Luna) is sharper, and when he returns with the lovely Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) on his arm, their father rejoices.
But Sonia is not all Raul brings back; the ranch is right near the border, and the notorious drug lord “La Onza” (Gael Garcia Bernal) wants to run his merchandise across it, which will involve the family in the drug trade and may raise the ire of the local police officer Blancardo (Manuel Urrego) and a pair of American DEA agents (Nick Offerman and Jerry Collins).
Ferrell is one of those comedians that seems to need constraints to be good. When he’s unrestrainedly zany he gets old, and fast. Casa de Mi Padre constrains him to stick within its genre conventions, even as it turns them up to garish levels, and he profits from it. There are no extended improvised schtick sequences or mugging for the camera; just one long attempt to scrape the bottom of the telenovela barrel.
And that it does; the writing is terrible, and intentionally so. It’s so corny and melodramatic it can’t help but be funny. When it actually makes a joke, the gag is terrible, and the shot of the actors forcing their laughter drags on painfully long. Still, as bad as the script is, Ferrell actually delivers his awful lines in what turns out to be pretty good Spanish, for whatever that’s worth. Having him be no good in Spanish would be too easy and probably couldn’t be sustained over a whole movie.
It’s not just the writing, directing, acting, and editing that are low-rent; as with any action film there’s a lot of weight put on the special effects. And, depending on your perspective, the effects are either spectacular or spectacularly disappointing. Bloody squibs are everywhere and only vaguely timed. Chases are ludicrous. There’s a fight sequence with an albino mountain lion the likes of which I can honestly say I’ve never seen before.
This is truly a terrible, terrible movie that manages to become so bad it’s fascinatingly good. There are plenty of such cult classics out there, but it’s rare to find one that got there intentionally. Like bad singing, it turns out that you have to be pretty good to make a movie this bad this well; with Ferrell’s help, that’s just the feat that writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont have pulled off. Many — most — people won’t like it, but if you’ve ever found a bad movie perversely enjoyable, you owe it to yourself to give this one a shot.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.