Will Ferrell is a native speaker. Not in Spanish - the language he comically shows some command of in Casa de Mi Padre - but in the language of lowbrow parody.
There he is, casting his squinty eyes across the sagebrush, playing Armando Alvarez, the dimwitted son of a Mexican rancher, cackling with his two sidekicks (Adrian Martinez, Efren Ramirez) as they sit atop their steeds, savoring a joke about women and cows.
They laugh way too long, over nothing really, and that's probably the response Ferrell and his director, Matt Piedmont, hope to elicit from audiences, too. A goofball send-up of the cheesily overdramatic telenovelas that are a staple of Latin American television, Casa de Mi Padre finds Ferrell working with the Y Tu Mama Tambien boys - Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna - the beautiful Genesis Rodriguez, and a cast of game Spanish-speaking thespians in a stormy saga of fraternal conflict, father/son favoritism, drug dealing, and true love.
Shot in "Mexico Scope" and boasting a blazing title song from Christina Aguilera, Casa de Mi Padre is set somewhere in modern-day Mexico, where the Alvarez ranch - presided over by the aging patriarch Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) - has fallen on hard times. (Veteran actor Armendáriz died last year, and the film is dedicated to him.) But Armando's younger brother, Raul (Luna), shows up seemingly in the nick of time, bringing with him his fiancée, Sonia (Rodriguez), and assurances that he can put the ranch back on sound financial footing.
But Raul, it turns out, has made his money illegally, selling sacks of cocaine, and Sonia, it turns out, has fallen for Armando (it was his speech about holding out until he finds his ideal woman that got to her). And then there's the drug lord Onza (Bernal), a man who doesn't think twice about killing anyone who gets in his way, and who does think twice when it comes to smoking cigarettes - he lights 'em up and pops 'em in his mouth two at a time.
Casa de Mi Padre is at its best (a relative term, mind you) when it's at its silliest and most surreal: the appearance of a mystical white mountain lion, who offers Ferrell's Armando sage counsel - and who is one of the least convincing animatronic puppets to come down the pike since comedian Soupy Sales conversed with White Fang - provides sublime guffaws. So, too, does a trippy dream sequence, with dolls, puppets, strobes, and a David Lynchian tableau.
Ferrell, as he's done in Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, walks undaunted through the amiable absurdity, delivering his not-exactly-mellifluous español in earnest flurries, as the dialogue, and the bullets, fly.