The telenovela spoof Casa de mi Padre only has one joke, but it’s a good one: the whole film is deliberately crappy.  Sets are cheap and shoddily constructed (I’ve seen more detailed high-school theater productions), and the actors approach their performances as if they were unskilled actors trying – and failing – to turn an overheated soap opera into Shakespeare.  That last bit is tougher than you might think; people like Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Pedro Armendáriz Jr. are not untalented (quite the opposite, really), yet they tap into the awkward, unsexy flop sweat of the amateur performer.

At the center of the humor is Will Ferrell, whose work here is more notable for what it doesn’t do than for what it does.  His Armando Alvarez doesn’t yell at inappropriate intervals; he rarely lapses into blithering displays of manchildness.  Alvarez is a little dim, sure (a running joke shows him as utterly lacking in social graces around women, particular when it comes to Genesis Rodriguez’s sultry femme fatale), but on the whole he’s a proud rancher capable of great heroism.  And that’s the gag, that the decidedly unmacho Ferrell is stuck playing an Antonio Banderas-esque Latin hero role, complete with a serviceable Spanish accent (Ferrell, like the majority of the cast, delivers his lines in Spanish).

And for about thirty minutes, Casa de mi Padre coasts off this professionally unprofessional premise.  It’s a hoot watching the incongruous Ferrell struggle with a part so far out of his comfort zone, and the rest of the cast gets a lot of mileage from over-emoting against the fake livestock and painted-on backdrops (Luna deserves particular recognition; he over-gestures with his hands like he doesn’t know what to do with them).

The film hits its zenith during a conversation between Ferrell, Luna, and Armendáriz’s Alvarez family members; though they’re all supposed to be talking in the living room of patriarch Armendáriz’s ranch, it’s painfully – and hilariously – obvious that Luna’s reaction shots were shot on a completely different set (maybe even a completely different country – he’s never in the same frame as Ferrell and Armendáriz).

That said, here’s the thing about one-note jokes: they don’t last long, and I wearied of watching it play out ad nauseum over the course of Casa de mi Padre‘s final hour.  The movie’s really has nothing else going for it, and the plot’s increasingly convoluted machinations (Ferrell and Rodriguez – the fiancée of Luna, Ferrell’s brother – begin a torrid affair, Bernal’s suave drug lord forces the Alvarez family into illegal activities, and the whole thing ends in a grand shootout) don’t amuse because screenwriter Andrew Steele isn’t interested in providing his actors with actual, y’know, jokes.  Again, we’re supposed to laugh at how chintzy everything is, and how silly it is that these talented people are lowering themselves to such melodramatic theatrics.

I just rewatched David Wain and Michael Showalter’s Wet Hot American Summer, and that movie has a similar agenda – it too wants to subvert an otherwise rote and predictable genre (in WHAS‘s case, the “teen summer camp” comedy subgenre) through the presence of talented actors and comedians slumming it – except that Wain and Showalter don’t just rely on the setup’s ridiculousness; they give their cast funny things to say and do.

Casa de mi Padre, on the other hand, feels like a moderately clever Funny or Die skit elongated from six minutes into eighty-three minutes; every gag that connects – an absurdist love scene between Ferrell and Rodriguez, the end bloodbath, Nick Offerman’s delightfully deadpan DEA agent – has acres of dead air surrounding it.  I have no doubt that Ferrell will make another picture worthy of his comic gifts.  Hell, The Other Guys came out only two years ago, and his “Daily Show” appearance promoting Casa de mi Padre contained more concentrated hilarity than the movie itself.  But both of those incidents featured a bit more effort on Ferrell’s part, and that effort, Dear Reader, is what Casa de mi Padre lacks most.

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray perfectly reflects the film’s initial source material; like Grindhouse, the picture is covered in deliberate errors and scratches, and those “problems” come through the HD transfer faithfully.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track makes no attempts at degrading itself – from the opening Christina Aguilera music number to Ferrell’s climactic gunfight, the sound roars out of the gate.

Extras are spotty.  We get a great, very funny commentary with Ferrell, Andrew Steele, and director Matt Piedmont, but the disc’s fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes featurette isn’t terribly informative or entertaining, and the twenty minutes of deleted scenes are just more of the same.  Better is the “Fight for Love” music video that was cut from the big sex scene and the three faux commercials that show Ferrell, Luna, and Offerman hawking ridiculous in-movie products.  The Blu-ray also has a sweet but too-short interview with Armendáriz.

As a replication of absurd Spanish telenovelas, Casa de mi Padre is just about perfect.  As a comedy….it needs more work.  Some bright spots aside, Casa de mi Padre can’t sustain enough funny to fill its meager runtime.

Casa de mi Padre streets on July 17th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

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