Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s epic double feature experiment Grindhouse may have been an infamous box office bomb in 2007, but it’s gone on to create a strange little subgenre of deliberately flawed fake exploitation movies over the last five years. Aside from that film’s two faux trailer-inspired semi-sequels Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun, there’s also been the hysterical blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite and now the latest bizarro Will Ferrell joint Casa De Mi Padre. Weirdly, the comedy is an homage to a style of movie that may never have actually existed: the cheapo drug-fueled Mexican Spaghetti Western. Even if it’s impossible to name check specific titles that this flick is mocking, the lovingly hilarious tribute to bad filmmaking is still custom designed for movie geeks. Sure, it’s a bit of a one joke premise, but if you’re the type of person who gets just as much enjoyment laughing at endearingly bad movies as you do in going along with a “good” movie, there’s plenty of stuff here to loosen up your bowels through giggles.
Will Ferrell stars as the strapping young Mexican farmhand Armando who loves his life in the country. He’s always been looked down upon by his father (the late Pedro Armendariz) who favors his big city livin’ brother Raul (Diego Luna), particularly when he returns home with a beautiful young senorita as his fresh fiancée (Genesis Rodriguez). Unfortunately, it turns out that Raul made all his city money in the drug trade and has enraged the local drug-dealing heavy Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) by returning home and stepping onto his turf. So, a good old fashion drug war develops with Ferrell and the blushing bride caught in the. There’s also a DEA agent played by Nick Offerman and a magical tiger puppet, because why the hell not? It’s all deliberately silly and overwrought, which you’ll either find comedically brilliant or deeply stupid. There’s really no middle ground with this type of thing.
The movie apparently developed out of Ferrell’s love of cornball Telemundo-style entertainment, and the influence is all over the project from the buckets of melodrama to dramatic scenes played entirely with characters not facing each other and looking off into the distance. The jokes come fast and furiously, but no one in the cast (not even Ferrell) mugs or plays up the comedy. Ferrell’s presence will help make it ok for audiences unfamiliar with this type of parody movie to laugh, but he’s possibly even bested by his co-stars in some scenes because of how seriously they are able to play the ridiculous “drama.” Luna and Bernal dive into their roles as if the film were a straight thriller and are all the funnier for it. When they have to do ridiculous things (such as when Luna hilariously engages in an entire shootout without pausing from drinking or smoking for a second) it only enhances the absurdity.
Ferrell’s longtime collaborators writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont were brought in to supervise the insanity and did it well. That comedy shorthand they learned from their time on SNL and Funny or Die was probably crucial to get the movie made. Steele’s hilariously stilted screenplay comes with wonderful asides (including a massive set piece stop in the middle only to be replaced by an apologetic letter from the faux filmmakers explaining why they weren’t able to complete the sequence), and Piedmont takes the faux-crap aesthetic and runs with it, filling his frames with bad sets, obvious mannequin extras, continuity errors, and skip-frame editing flubs. He also proves to be pretty adept and shooting an action scene, even in a slapstick manner.
Casa De Mi Padre is a very specific style of parody film that either works for you or it doesn’t and stacks up pretty well against the previous entries in the subgenre. Whether audiences are necessarily desperate to flock to an absurd subtitled Will Ferrell movie is a reasonable question, but I’m certain this thing will pick up some adoringly dorky fans on DVD at the very least. The world needs loving homages to bad Mexican filmmaking much more than bloated TV adaptations with Happy Meal tie-ins. Well, perhaps “need” is too strong a word, but you know what I mean.