Armando Alvarez has lived and worked on his father's ranch in Mexico his entire life. As the ranch encounters financial difficulties, Armando's younger brother Raul, shows up with his new fiancee, Sonia. It seems that Raul's success as an international businessman means the ranch's troubles are over as he pledges to settle all debts. But when Armando falls for Sonia, and Raul's business dealings turn out to be criminal, all hell breaks loose as they find themselves in a war with Mexico's most feared drug lord, the mighty Onza.
Things begin simmering when Raul starts mixing it up with a drug lord, La Onza or â€œthe Ounceâ€ (Gael GarcÃa Bernal), a baddie with the usual bikinied ladies and machine-gun-toting muscle. Mr. GarcÃa Bernal and Mr. Luna clearly enjoyed playing dress-up, but itâ€™s too bad that the story isnâ€™t as retro as their clothes. â€œCasa de Mi Padreâ€ demands that you not take it seriously, and for the most part thatâ€™s easy to do. Even so, there are times â€" as with an execution witnessed by Armando and his sidekicks â€" when, because of the devastation the drug war has wreaked in Mexico, the laughs take on a queasy quality that could have worked only if the filmmakers had gone very dark, very tough.
Superficially â€œCasa de Mi Padreâ€ recalls the genre excesses and insider yuks of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguezâ€™s â€œGrindhouse,â€ their duetting homage to 1970s-style exploitation cinema. Yet while Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Tarantino are true believers, Mr. Steele and the director of â€œCasa de Mi Padre,â€ Matt Piedmont (another â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ vet), come across as dabblers. That may be why they have a tough time finding a persuasive tone. The biggest joke in â€œCasa de Mi Padreâ€ is that Mr. Ferrell speaks Spanish without winking throughout the hyperserious proceedings, and as he often does, he turns his characterâ€™s innocence into a strange state of grace. The sincerity of his performance makes Armando seem foolish and therefore funnier, at least when he has enough good material.
Mr. Bernal and Mr. Luna, by contrast, mostly seem to be having a goof playing cowboys and narcos, and their barely contained smiles, however shining, work against Mr. Ferrellâ€™s commitment and undermine the movieâ€™s poker-faced interests. â€œCasa de Mi Padreâ€ is best when it stops pretending that anyone, including the filmmakers, cares about the pointless story, which also includes too much unfunny business with a few American lawmen that wastes the mustachioed brilliance of Nick Offerman. Far better are its oases of absurdity, like an increasingly preposterous sex scene featuring the inevitably naked Mr. Ferrell, once again flaunting his furred assets, and a lysergic trip to the other side with a conspicuously ersatz white leopard whose coat is almost as matted.