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Movie Review

Armando Alvarez doesn't have any beef with being a rancher. The job's hard. But it is, after all, his family's business, and he's been caring for cattle since he was knee high to an Angus. He loves the gentle beasts—loves them more, one of his compatriots says, than women.

"But only because I have not found the right woman," Armando says.

Yes, it's a rugged life, but Armando has what he needs: campfires, good workmates, an endless supply of tobacco. He desires little else. His steers have never steered him wrong.

But there are other issues.

His father thinks he's about as dumb as the cattle he cares for. "If you were truly smart, you would know that you are dumb," padre Miguel Ernesto says. And it's hard for Armando to argue with that sort of logic. And then there's the small fact that a notorious drug lord called Enzo has started killing folks on the Alvarez property. That can't be good for cattle morale. And, finally, Armando's beloved brother Raul is back. "You're the son I've always loved!" Miguel gushes—and he's even more thrilled when he meets Raul's gorgeous fiancée, Sonia.

You'd think that'd be good news for Armando, loving his brother as he does. But there's something different about Raul now, what with his shiny suits and ever-present sunglasses and generally stereotypical no-good, drug-dealing demeanor: Could it be that Armando's brother has a stake in something other than steak?

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Positive Elements

"Not all Americans are bad, Armando," a U.S. DEA agent says.

"Not all Mexicans are drug dealers," Armando replies.

That's about as close to a moral as you get in this wacky telenovela/Mexican Western send up. And it's not even all that evident since 80% of the characters and extras seem somehow involved with the drug trade, and our "good" DEA agent had, seconds before, shot his boss in cold blood.

Still, Armando does courageously—and outrageously—face down the cartel. He has a touching reconciliation with both his father and brother. And, as mentioned, he really seems to take good care of his cattle.

Spiritual Content

Certain he's headed for heaven when he dies Miguel gasps out at the last, "When I see your mother in heaven, what will I tell her, Armando?" Miguel says (in a room covered in crosses and pictures of religious figures). "You must lie to her," Armando responds. Earlier, Miguel talks about how much God has blessed his house and family.

Is it part of the bigger spoof of telenovelas, Miguel's "faith"? Or are we to take it as sincere? We're never really told. What we do know is part of the joke is ranch hand Manuel's exclamation of "Holy Mother!" when he sees a man shot by a drug dealer. "Praying will not help that man," fellow hand Esteban says. Back in the not so clear column is a dying man's pleas for God to forgive him.

We also see Armando undergo a mystical experience led by a bizarre white (stuffed) cougar—an intelligent spirit-based "guardian" animal. During his visions, Armando sees himself dressed as an ancient priest performing religious rituals, and Sonia subs as a Virgin Mary-like figure, her face framed in iconographic imagery.

Sexual Content

Sonia and Armando have sex by a pond: We see both their backsides for an extended period of time as they clutch and roll around while their hands explore and kneed (in both a sexual and goofy manner). We see them naked from the side as well—then, when things move toward intercourse, Sonia appears to be replaced with a mannequin. Afterwards, the couple's sleep is interrupted by Enzo, and both stand rapidly—covering up with whatever's handy.

Sonia, we learn, was raised by an uncle who beat her and told her that when she grew up, they were going to get married. We see him hint at his attraction to her in the present time as well.

Women wear bikinis and other revealing outfits. Miguel's house is staffed with women wearing sultry, French maid-type uniforms. A few sexual jokes are told.

Violent Content

Rival drug dealers obviously cannot settle differences in small claims court. Their recourse of choice here? Gunfire. Lots and lots of gunfire that produces copious amounts of blood.

The mayhem in Casa de mi Padre isn't meant to be taken seriously, but it is meant to look awfully gory. Only about a dozen people survive the movie—and that's counting those interchangeable servants in the French maid outfits. One man survives only by way of comedic divine intervention. (Meaning he should be dead, but he's not even mostly dead after getting riddled with bullets.)

Gunmen descend on Raul and Sonia's wedding, killing almost all the participants in a hail of bullets. Blood coats the previously tranquil setting—bursting out of bodies and splattering over most everything. When it's quiet again, we see rivulets of the red stuff melodramatically coursing down a white rose. Dead bodies sprawl everywhere.

Later we see the same sort of carnage during a shootout between rival drug gangs. And, again, blood trickles down something white, this time a marble lion. One victim is shot and falls down a flight of stairs—living only long enough to light a long cigarette and offer a short monologue. Another victim staggers around with a bullet wound to the gut, drinking a last quaff of whisky. We see a bloody body floating in a garden pool. Enzo shoots a man in the head, executing him. His victim is then tied to a vehicle and dragged through the desert.

Sonia tries to drown herself. In flashback, we see ruffians struggle with Armando's mother (in preparation, we're told, to rape her). Armando's a young boy at this point, and in trying to defend him mom, he accidentally shoots her in the gut. Other Alvarezes are shot too. Some die. A DEA agent is shot in the head. A police officer is shot in the abdomen. A man, covered in blood and apparently missing a hand, dies beside a flaming car. It's no coincidence that Armando then discovers a bloody hand in a paper bag. Sonia talks about how her father was murdered in bed and his uncle used to burn her with cigarettes. She slaps Armando.

Crude or Profane Language

According to the subtitles, the f-word pops up nearly 20 times, the s-word another dozen. Joining those words are handfuls of these: "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑." God's name is once merged with "d‑‑n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Raul snorts what would seem to be several pounds of cocaine. He also smokes a joint—along with cigarettes and cigars. He downs beer, wine, margaritas and mixed drinks … all in one scene. Enzo has a fondness for Canadian Slims, puffing on two at a time. Armando and two of his buddies get drunk around a campfire, throwing bottles into the fire, against nearby rocks and their own legs. We're told that while making the movie, stunt tigers got into cocaine and other drugs that were laying around. Armando repeatedly rolls cigarettes—badly.

Other Negative Elements

Raul and Armando insult Americans. A DEA agent demeans Mexicans. "It's just Mexicans killing Mexicans," he says. "Let them kill each other."

Conclusion

Casa de mi Padre is an odd bird—a Spanish-language spoof rendered fully in subtitles that stars a venerable English-speaking comic. And it's left critics feeling conflicted. Is it a sly, well-crafted comedy or a meanspirited smackdown? English-speaking reviewers don't seem to quite know what to think. And while some Spanish-speaking critics like the film better than, say, Roger Ebert ("The movie is only 84 minutes long," he writes, "but that is quite long enough"), others have called the thing downright offensive.

Writes Slant Magazine's Diego Costa, "Casa de Mi Padre is one of those nasty little films that tries very hard to obscure its misogynist and racist premise through satiric social commentary (here, the Mexican drug trade) when the pseudo political critique serves as mere excuse for it to glorify the stupidity of white men (who are superior even when they are stupid) and the unquestionable availability of delectable Latina bodies." He adds that Will Ferrell did everything but slap on "brown face."

I'll stick to the facts: Racist remarks are indeed made. Negative stereotypes are pushed and pulled with reckless abandon. Misogyny is present. Profanities are many. The film shows nudity, drug abuse and enough blood to fill a hot tub.

Comedy? Maybe. Crass? Definitely.

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