Casa de Mi Padre sounds like the ultimate Will Ferrell joke: a bloody Mexican family-revenge melodrama, made in Spanish, with Ferrell in dark sideburns and south-of-the-border cowboy duds as Armando Alvarez, the naive son in a clan of ranchers. As soon as you hear that premise, it's hard not to imagine Tijuana Nights: The Ballad of Armando Alvarez with an added dollop of Three Amigos. But here's how "ultimate" the stunt joke of Casa de Mi Padre really is: This is parody so dialed down it verges on not being a comedy. As Ferrell's Armando battles a drug lord (Gael García Bernal) and fights his brother (Diego Luna) for the hand of a hottie señorita (Genesis Rodriguez), there are a handful of wacky-absurdist moments: a love scene consisting almost entirely of bare-butt shots, a talking mystical white mountain lion that's a bit too obviously an animatronic puppet. Ferrell, though, mostly plays it straight (it takes all of 30 seconds to get used to him speaking impeccable Spanish), and so does the movie.
And that, in a funny way, is the joke: that Ferrell went this far to do a faux-Mexican genre potboiler with nary a laugh line. Even if you choose to experience Casa de Mi Padre as a postmodern wink at the audience, it's a very abstract wink. Yet if you take the film on its own terms, as a kind of Elvis movie dipped in guacamole, it's quirkily engrossing. Ferrell is a good straight actor for the same reason that he's an inspired comedian: He commits himself to every moment. Even in a movie whose highest ambition is to be true to its quaintly delectable tackiness. B