"My woman, Señor Lopez, must love the land as much as I do!" Armando declares in Casa de Mi Padre.
Since Armando is played by Will Ferrell, the over-the-top line is played as over-the-top as you would expect — brow furrowed, eyes looking dramatically at the horizon. And since Casa de Mi Padre is a Spanish- language comedy, a broad spoof of Mexican melodramas and telenovelas (soap operas), Señor Ferrell performs the line, as he does all his lines, in Spanish.
A one-joke comedy has to have a pretty good joke to come off, and Ferrell commits his corazón y el alma (heart and soul) to this farce. His Spanish is pretty darned good, and with every overly dramatic scowl, every "R" rolled across his tongue as if it doesn't fear the cliff he's rolling it off, he is a stitch in this send-up of a genre that needs no sending up.
Armando is a "hopeless romantic," idealizing his life on the family hacienda. But as his father (veteran Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) tells him, "Like your mother, you are not smart. ... If you were truly smart, you would realize how dumb you are."
Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) is Raul, the brother "with the brains." But he is a bad seed, misusing his lady love ( Genesis Rodriguez of Man on a Ledge), getting mixed up in the drug trade.
The pistol-packing drug lord La Onza (The Ounce), played by Luna's frequent co-star, Gael García Bernal, is closing in on their land. Who will save them and their ranch from La Onza or from the meddling "let Mexicans kill Mexicans" DEA?
Ferrell hurls himself into the melodramatic, heavy-breathing telenovela style of acting. And surrounded by actors who know the genre and get the joke (Efren Ramirez from Napoleon Dynamite among them), this send-up works.
The costumes are too colorful and changed too often (sometimes mid-scene), and the sets are too fake. The cast is not just playing the soap opera-cum-spaghetti Western that they're starring in, they're playing Mexican TV stars trapped on the set of something that's beneath them, though they can never let on. Armando and the lovely Sonia (Rodriguez) ride the range, but their horses are wooden. They stop by the Pond of Seven Tears, "the most beautiful place I have ever seen," which is plainly a puddle on a soundstage.
The close-ups are too close, the edits are sloppy, the screen compositions — it was filmed in "Mexico Scope" — goofy.
Truthfully, it's been years since a telenovela has seemed this primitive (the movie might be set in the '70s — or not). But Ferrell & Co. have cooked up an affectionate homage to the genre as it once was.
They see to it that no plot twist is too far-fetched, that no emotion is played halfway. Compadres, in this casa, set in this tierra, the players are all in. Because this is Mexico, and "Mexico is no place for cowards."