There’s a rambunctious, cluttered energy coursing through this directorial debut from screenwriter Carlos Cuaron (brother to the great Alfonso, who previously had a hand in penning the latter’s recent masterpieces Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men). Given their family situation, sibling rivalry seems a natural subject, and at first this tale of two bickering, bonehead half-brothers—plucked off a banana plantation and thrust into Mexico City’s fickle soccer scene—throbs with lewd promise.
Nicknamed “Rudo” (or “tough”), Diego Luna’s hotheaded goalie is a brawler with a bad moustache and an unfortunate tendency to gamble while coked out of his gourd. Casting baby-faced Luna as a swaggering badass is your first indication of how seriously Cuaron is taking these characters. The bemused, askance view of Latin bravado recalls Y Tu Mama’s droll reserve, as does the reunion of Luna with his Tambien co-star Gael Garcia Bernal, here boasting hilarious frosted tips and clueless puppy-dog charm.
Bernal’s called “Cursi” (meaning “corny”) and he cartoonishly views his success on the field as a mere stepping stone to a musical career. (Oh, if only there were a market for accordion-driven covers of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” crooned by overly sincere men in rhinestone cowboy getups, I’d probably never turn off the television.)
Narrated by the cheerfully amoral sports-agent hustler (comedian Guillermo Francella) who ushers these nitwit man-children into the big time, Rudo Y CursI attempts the aloof detachment that leant Tambien’s sophomoric hijinks such devastating perspective, but Cuaron can’t muster up the life-and-death stakes that gave his brother’s picture its power. Such comparisons aren’t helped by cinematographer Adam Kimmel’s transparent attempts to ape Emmanuel Lubezski’s verdant green color palate—not an act anyone should try to follow.
On the bright side, at least Cuaron keeps the soccer games entirely off-screen. (As a lifelong baseball fan, I realize that I have no right to call any sport “boring.” But seriously, people … )
There are some awesomely tacky details lurking around the margins. Cuaron can’t ever quite overcome the been-there, done-that feeling that sinks his rags-to-riches-to-rags cautionary tale. Every scene in Rudo Y Cursi goes exactly where you already guessed it would, at least 10 minutes before finally getting there. The air of jaunty vivaciousness is promising, but nothing sticks. C+