Published Mar 15, 2012It's important to note that director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele's feature debut is little more than a protracted sketch, or comic grindhouse farce, which teeters dangerously close to racial ridicule while simultaneously mocking and embracing Mexican stereotypes. It's a stone-faced telenovella full of cheap, self-conscious narrative tics that jarringly dumps Will Ferrell into a central role of dull-witted Mexican rancher Armando Alvarez, speaking Spanish with an inexplicable gringo accent.
Armando's plight is that of hormones and a brewing drug war imposing on both his humble (misogynist) way of life and familial values. Brother Raul (Diego Luna) is wrapped up in the middle of it all, leading notorious gang leader baddie La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) to their abode when he brings home his foxy, cleavage-baring fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), to whom Armando takes a liking.
Keep in mind that all of this is riddled with deliberate editing errors and cheap plastic props (plastic ice cubes, a stuffed animal tiger in the desert, prop flowers near ponds, etc.) adding to the deliberately sleazy aesthetic and tongue-in-cheek mockery of low budget Mexican cinema. When not stepping back for one of the many musical numbers (yes, this is a musical as well), sequences often focus on cheap rear projection footage or unfinished scenes, such as one where Ferrell clumsily helps Rodriguez onto a horse, only to give up, look at the camera and walk away, with her slumped over the saddle sideways.
Some of these gags actually connect, generating mild laughter, like a slow motion sequence where a central character manages to take a sip of his drink while being riddled, graphically, with bullets. But most of the film plays out as referential nostalgia, appealing via minor wit and tonal determination despite often missing the mark and running out of steam well before the end credits.
While the comedic tone works intermittently, obviously appealing more so in a "Hey, I know that reference" kind of way, the major problem is that of racial mockery. During the film, there are clumsy, but self-aware nods at anti-American didactics, with the characters vacillating between guilt and pride for feeding the greedy, consumerist, "hamburger eating monster children" of America drugs, but these exchanges almost seem contradictory to the greater vision of Mexicans as either morons or criminals. The gag seems to be making fun of Mexican cinema for complaining of an imposing American lifestyle, given the overall smart-ass tone of the film.
And where a brief sketch on SNL, with a bit of inadvertent ignorance, would be harmless enough, the feature-length template leaves these flaws and peculiarities lingering in the mind long after the central gimmick has worn out its welcome. But, hey, there's an artfully stylized wedding massacre with framed shots of blood dripping from white roses, which is familiar and therefore funny. (Alliance)