In a true display of dedication to the cause, Ferrell even learned Spanish for the film. Or at least he learned his lines convincingly enough to deliver some impressive speeches and avoid a one-joke movie where "Will Ferrell speaks Spanish" is the gag. Of course, he's playing a dimwitted character, which helps with the believability factor, and when sharing scenes with Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, he mostly sits back and lets them handle the weightier stuff. Still, considering how much Ferrell simply fell back on his doughy physique for laughs in all those sports comedies, it's refreshing to see him trot out new tricks.
A parody of telenovelas that barely needs to exaggerate its source material, Casa de mi Padre has a loopy affection for the character archetypes and chintzy production values of the genre it's mocking. Appropriately, the story offers love triangles, sibling rivalry and high-stakes confrontations: Armando's drug lord brother (Luna) is prepared to inherit their father's estate until a rival trafficker (Bernal) declares a turf war and Armando falls for his brother's fiancee (Genesis Rodriguez).
With its endlessly drawn-out death scenes, dramatic close-ups of blood-soaked flowers and characters who literally turn their backs on each other, Casa de mi Padre displays a level of affection for its source material equal to that of the cult blaxploitation hit Black Dynamite ? or, come to think of it, the recent Oscar winner The Artist.
Yet the film feels ultimately hollow, perhaps because mocking soap operas is the comic's equivalent of shooting fish tacos in a barrel. In fact, the concept for Casa de mi Padre seems born out of one too many tequila-infused evenings in the Funny or Die writers' room ? unsurprisingly, director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele are both Funny or Die and Saturday Night Live veterans. The movie has a deliberate cheapness that grows tiring ? self-contained "outdoor" sets, sex scenes with mannequin body doubles, and what must be the worst puppet the Jim Henson Workshop has ever built. Its theatrical release feels like a mistake: Surely this belongs online? Or on Comedy Central at 3:00 a.m.?
If Casa was meant to be a total lark, nobody told the cast. Ferrell may be the newsmaker, but his ensemble has decades' worth of combined telenovela experience; these people know what to do with such broadly drawn roles. Luna relishes his antihero status, indulging in more vices than the human body should be able to stomach. Rodriguez, as the sexpot with the dark past, proves she is up to the challenge of crying for comedy. And Pedro Armendariz Jr., in one of the last roles the veteran actor completed before his death in 2011, is a warm presence as the patriarch of the title.
With few scenes of outright physical comedy and almost no lines that Ferrell fans will be able to quickly produce in bars, Casa de mi Padre aims for grander, weirder pastures than its star has been wont to explore in the past decade. Perhaps it's the beginning of a cross-cultural resurgence for Ferrell. If so, maybe he'll be riding his trusty green-screen steed to Bollywood next.