Director Luke Greenfield’s odd little film — in operational theaters starting today — has some heavy social commentary for what’s essentially a road-trip comedy.
The two halves don’t meld very well.
|Renato (Luis Gerardo Méndez, left) has no idea why his newly discovered half-brother
Asher (Connor Del Rio) decides to rescue one of the “residents” of a goat farm … and
he’s not really inclined to ask.
The script — by Ali LeRoi, Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman — makes pungent observations about the way some Americans shamefully stereotype (and treat) Mexicans, but such serious sentiments feel like an afterthought: an eleventh-hour attempt to make a plain-vanilla comedy more “relevant.”
Mind you, the story definitely needed some sort of help, because it’s quite uneven: at best, a well-intentioned mess.
A brief prologue — set in the early 1990s — depicts the strong, loving relationship between young Renato Murguia (Ian Inago) and his father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa). They bond while flying radio-controlled airplane models from the grassy hills overlooking San Miguel de Allende, chortling with delight as they buzz patrons in the streets.
Then the 1994 Mexican currency crisis hits, so Flavio reluctantly leaves his wife and son in order to find work in the United States. And never returns.
Flash-forward to the present day: Renato (now played by Luis Gerardo Méndez) has become a successful entrepreneur and owner of a private-jet charter company. He’s days away from tying the knot with fiancée Pamela (Pia Watson), when he gets an unexpected phone call from his father’s American wife (Ashley Poole), in Chicago. Flavio is dying, and wishes to see his son one final time.
And right away, we have a disconnect that only gets worse as the film proceeds: an “impossible contrivance” that simply cannot be swallowed.
Given that Espinosa consistently portrays Flavio as an honorable and steadfastly caring father and husband — during a series of flashbacks interspersed with the ongoing contemporary events — there is simply no way he’d wholly abandon Renato and his mother for several decades. No phone calls or letters, let alone occasional visits?
I simply don’t buy it.
But moving on…
Quite reluctantly, and mostly because Pamela pushes him, Renato makes the trip to Chicago, and to his long-estranged father’s bedside. Where he’s astonished to learn that he has a twentysomething half-brother: the failure-to-launch Asher (Connor Del Rio), an insufferably vain jackass who fancies himself some sort of social-media brand ambassador.
Renato hates him on sight (and so do we). Asher, with the unconditional trust and affection of a puppy, pays this no mind.
Flavio’s dying wish is that Renato and Asher embark on a road trip together, in order to get to know each other while delivering an envelope to a mysterious somebody named Eloise. Renato finds this prospect unthinkable. And it gets worse; the puzzle-oriented Flavio has made this a sort of treasure hunt, with another clue found at each stop along the way.
Against his better judgment, Renato ultimately agrees to ride shotgun in Asher’s vintage Mercedes diesel station wagon. (He has no choice; otherwise, we’d have no movie.) Cue a series of hijinks, encounters with white-cracker racists, a confrontation with a sassy airline ticket counter clerk … and a goat.
Frankly, the goat is the best part of the movie. Its curious glances, double-takes and bleats are much funnier than most of what its two human companions do or say.
To be fair, Greenfield mines some genuine humor from the tried-and-true Mutt ’n’ Jeff pairing. Méndez’s Renato is refined, educated, restrained and well dressed; Del Rio’s Connor is impulsive, reckless, cheerfully oblivious and garbed like a circus clown. Clearly, as time proceeds, each will become a better person by absorbing a bit of the other’s personality.
(Actually, Del Rio rather overdoes Connor’s peculiarities during the first act. The man’s a lunatic.)
As each stop en route to Texas reveals a bit more about Flavio’s journey from his Mexican family to a new American wife — via the aforementioned flashbacks — the story becomes increasingly contrived. Try as they might, Greenfield, Méndez and Del Rio can’t make their quest feel credible.
The flashback sequences, in turn, supply the sharp racist content. God knows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents deserve plenty of scrutiny these days, but that’s an awkward fit in a film such as this.
And I’ve no idea what to make of Pamela’s aggressively weird adolescent son: a character who’s just this side of tasteless. Are we to assume that Renato’s growing tolerance of Asher is key to his later acceptance of this stepson? That’s a clumsy reach.
Ultimately, that’s the key word: Pretty much everything about this film is clumsy. Yes, it’s fitfully entertaining — at times — but not worth the investment.