Filmed in grainy "MexicoScope" on a budget of several hundred pesos, or so we're led to believe, "Casa de Mi Padre" stars Will Ferrell as Armando Alvarez, a humble ranchero battling a ruthless drug cartel. And yes, Ferrell speaks Spanish, just like his mostly Latino co-stars. If you can't laugh and read subtitles at the same time, "Casa" isn't your cup of té.
Not that the laughs come so fast and furious. If "Casa" feels like an overlong video from the website FunnyOrDie, that's probably because producers Ferrell and Adam McKay founded the site, while director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele are contributors to it. Nevertheless, for a movie with basically one idea -- spoofing the telenovela -- "Casa" is determined to take it as far as possible.
Language barrier aside, Armando is a familiar Ferrell character, the noble-hearted bumbler. Though bullied by cops (Nick Offerman, Manuel Urrego), outshone by his Rico Suave-like brother (Diego Luna) and mocked by his own father (Pedro Armendáriz Jr., who died in December), Armando will be the one to holster up and face down the kingpin La Onza (Gael García Bernal).
Sensitive types might call "Casa" an 84-minute ethnic joke, but the movie has its moments. Ferrell, Luna and Bernal occasionally achieve a near-Marxian lunacy, and even Genesis Rodriguez, as the va-va-voomy Sonia, gets to join the fun. There's also a joyously inane campfire song: "I have no thoughts / I am friends with the cows / I am a ranchero."
Blatantly stealing from "What's Up, Tiger Lily?," Woody Allen's dubbed version of a Japanese spy flick, and Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse," which featured missing scenes and skipping celluloid, "Casa" doesn't feel terribly original. Still, like Ferrell's tortured Spanish accent, it's worth at least a few chuckles.
PLOT A humble ranchero stands up to a ruthless drug cartel. In Spanish with English subtitles. RATING R (language, violence, crude humor)
CAST Will Ferrell, Gael García Bernal, Génesis Rodriguez
BOTTOM LINE Not quite enough jokes to fill 84 minutes, but it's hard not to laugh at Ferrell in any language.