"CASA DE MI PADRE" — ★★1/2 — Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Genesis Rodriguez, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Nick Offerman; R (vulgar language, violence, gore, nudity, sexual situations, adult theme); in general release
Will Ferrell has starred in some exceedingly odd comedies ("Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "Land of the Lost"), but he's never made one as flat-out bizarre as "Casa de mi Padre." That the entire film is in Spanish, and Ferrell plays a Mexican named Armando, are two of the tamest elements in the movie.
There are much, much stranger things in store, from a wedding massacre in which the shot-gunned guests spout ridiculous fountains of blood, to a mystical Bengal tiger (played by an awesome stuffed animal) who becomes Armando's Yoda. Written by Andrew Steel and directed by Matt Piedmont, two of Ferrell's frequent collaborators at FunnyorDie.com, "Casa de mi Padre" spoofs telenovelas and grindhouse B-movies with a plot that involves Armando falling in love with the woman (Genesis Rodriguez) engaged to marry his brother (Diego Luna).
Ferrell, who learned his dialogue phonetically, acquits himself admirably in a foreign language. But hearing Ferrell shout "Alejate! O te doy una paliza con estas manos!" is a lot funnier if you speak Spanish — and much less so if you're stuck reading subtitles. Gael Garcia Bernal is appropriately snaky as a cretin drug lord, although his performance, too, suffers if you can't savor his line readings.
"Casa de mi Padre" breaks out into surreal lunacy at regular intervals — there's a wild visualization of a mushroom trip that borders on 3-D — and the picture is dotted with curious, unexplained touches, such as the constant presence of mannequins in the background of scenes that often change position from shot to shot.
One bit in which Ferrell and Rodriguez ride patently fake horses kept me laughing for several minutes after the scene was over, and a flashback recounting the death of Armando's mother when he was a little boy still makes me chuckle.
The crummy nature of Mexican exploitation pictures is also lovingly honored in various ways, from the musical cues that have been abruptly edited together to a close-up of a man wearing sunglasses in which you can see the reflection of the film's crew standing around (one guy is eating a pizza).
The film's silliness tickles you. But without Ferrell's ability to improvise his dialogue on the spot, the stretches of exposition are dull, bordering on tedious.
"Casa de mi Padre" is a bold experiment — many will call it a folly — and the movie seems destined to enjoy a long life in college dorm rooms.
But if the idea of Jose Luis "El Puma" Rodriguez belting out "A Whiter Shade of Pale" as a Mexican wedding singer doesn't make you crack a smile, this "Casa" is certainly not for you.
"Casa De Mi Padre" is rated R for vulgar language, violence, gore, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes; running time: 85 minutes.