When his father’s ranch in Mexico undergoes financial difficulties, Armando (Will Ferrell) sees his visiting rich brother Raul (Diego Raul) as the solution. Little does he expect to fall in love with Raul’s wife (Genesis Rodriguez) or the dubious origin of his wealth to lead to war with the country's most feared drug lord (Gael García Bernal)...

Change-of-pace comedy can't sustain its concept.

AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE: Good programming should never be predictable, in which case it’s kudos to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne’s always busy screen hub, who are following up their sterling Jeanne Moreau retrospective with the Australian premiere of this daffy spoof. Starring Will Ferrell – three words not everyone would expect to see attached to ACMI – Casa de mi Padre is a ripely ludicrous Spanish language send-up of Mexican telenovela soap operas and the spaghetti western genre.

a curiously exacting tribute

Directed by Matt Piedmont, a graduate of the American sketch comedy institution Saturday Night Live and the Funny or Die website co-owned by Ferrell, the film is a curiously exacting tribute, often duplicating the strange rituals and poor production design of the source material with a strange fidelity. The picture, like Ferrell, keeps a very straight face, and part of the appeal is trying to deduce when someone is deliberately acting bad for effect or simply just acting bad.

The good-hearted but dim offspring of ageing Mexican rancher Miguel Alvarez (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), Ferrell’s Armando Alvarez has dutifully spent his whole life herding cattle and living in the shadow of his absent prodigal brother Raul (Diego Luna). 'If you were really smart you’d know that you were dumb," father assures son, and the patriarchal bias becomes clear when the slick Raul comes home to save the family’s fortunes and brings with him his fiancé, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez, who has actual telenovela experience).

Tragic scandal, and automatic weapons fire, soon eventuates: Raul is in the drug trafficking business and he’s returned home to take over the operation of local narco kingpin Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), and even as Armando tries to save him he’s growing uncomfortably attracted to Sonia. The plot could be genuine, and sadly so could the continuity errors, use of cheap backdrops and riding scenes shot on mechanical horses; the performances never wink at the audience, but the amusingly inadequate technical skills do.

Will Ferrell became famous playing American idiots with two first names – such as Talladega Nights’ NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby – and as a Mexican heartthrob he tends to go for dim-wittedness over self-obsessed anarchy. The film lags at points, as a gag is stretched out to breaking point, but it surprisingly also contains a caustic take on relations between Mexico and America, with Raul lecturing his brother that the former is simply in the business of satisfying the childish greed of the latter – an added twist is that Ferrell still visually suggests his most celebrated impersonation, former U.S. President George W. Bush.

While Luna and particularly Garcia, who does some Flying High-worthy work smoking multiple cigarillos, show an aptitude for oddball comedy, the movie needs more of the genuinely demented ideas – such as an animatronic panther that serves as Armando’s kinky spirit guide – that occasionally scramble up the satire. As much as the concept sounds bizarre, the nature of Casa de mi Padre makes it conservative. It doesn’t want to stray too far from spoofing its source material, and that’s why it can’t quite get past being an extremely funny recurring sketch that’s been extended into a feature.