Every so often, a movie critic is reminded that he sees movies for free and other people don’t, and that shelling out one’s hard-earned cash does affect one’s response to a given film. Commercial moviegoing is, more than we admit, a value proposition. Another way of putting it is that as tickled as I was by the slaphappy one-joke silliness of “Casa de mi Padre,’’ I’d be a lot less amused if I’d paid $23 for a pair of tickets and another $20 for the “food.’’
The Internet’s to blame, again. Director Matt Piedmont and screenwriter Andrew Steele have bona fides as writers for “Saturday Night Live’’ and Jon Stewart, but lately they’ve been responsible for the content of “Funny or Die,’’ the Web sketch-comedy brainchild of “Casa de mi Padre’’ star Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay. The new movie is very much a “Funny or Die’’ meme that somehow escaped the corral and is roaming free in (some of) the nation’s movie theaters. It’s a solid short film stretched to Silly Putty thinness.
The gag is that we’re watching a cheap Mexican telenovela - in Spanish, with subtitles - starring Ferrell as an overgrown naïf named Armando and a game Latin American cast in stock roles. The comedian has brushed up on his high school Spanish, but his beady-eyed gringo obliviousness is part of the joke. Pedro Armendáriz Jr. brings his legendary movie bloodline to the role of Armando’s ranchero father, and here are the bad boys of “Y Tu Mamá También,’’ Diego Luna as Armando’s sleazy drug-dealer brother and Gael García Bernal as a white-suited Mr. Big. (In one of the more inspired touches here, he smokes two Tiparillos at a time.)
The female lead - the brother’s va-va-voom mistress who’s a country chiquita at heart - is taken by Genesis Rodriguez, an alumna of actual telenovelas (“Prisionera,’’ “Doña Bárbara’’) who knows to play this fluff with flared nostril and a straight face. The premise is slim - my, aren’t Mexican melodramas ridiculous? - and “Casa de mi Padre’’ almost herniates itself trying to keep the comedy coming. The title sequence, complete with Christina Aguilera blaring the sub-Leone theme song, promises great things. But the third time you see the hero and heroine riding flagrantly wooden horses against poorly painted backdrops, it’s barely worth a chuckle.
The problem is that directors like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have trod similar turf with greater invention, filmmaking chops, and understanding of the cultural clichés they’re lampooning. “Casa de mi Padre’’ is like one of the fake coming attractions from Tarantino’s “Grindhouse’’ that doesn’t know when to quit, and the only time the satire stings is when the characters rail against the “fat, drug-addicted children’’ north of the border. Meanwhile, the prime audience for this bright, empty trifle will be stoners who catch it on demand in a few months. Theater-ticket prices are too high to pay for salsa this mild.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.