Review: ‘Half Brothers’ is fun, but something’s rotten
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There’s much to like about the road-trip comedy “Half Brothers.” It’s funny, smart, topical and even touching at times. But it’s hard to overcome the inescapable rot at its center.
As a boy in rural Mexico, Renato adored his engineer father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa). Then the economy crashed. Flavio was forced to go to the States to try to support the family — and Renato and his mother never saw him again. He didn’t disappear; he became successful and remarried in America. Two and a half decades later, buttoned-up aviation executive Renato (Luis Gerardo Méndez) is preparing to wed his fiancée when he learns that his father is terminally ill in Chicago. He reluctantly goes to see Flavio for the first time in 25 years — and Renato learns he has a half brother. Wacky Asher (Connor Del Rio) is a millennial “idea guy” who sports a headband and makes up for his lack of intelligence with positive energy. Flavio’s dying wish is for his two sons to go on a long drive to the border to find clues he left that explain how they all got there.
There are funny references to stereotypes Americans and Mexicans have of one another (such as a running gag about ziplining, or when Asher tries to “comfort” Renato, newly arrived from Mexico: “You’re safe now”).
Del Rio is appropriately harmless and goofy. Méndez is a fine leading man: Charming, multi-dimensional; this fish out of water is worldly and intelligent. We see him getting caught up in the ride.
The film is also unapologetically set in the world we currently live in. It effectively comments on the humanity often ignored in highly politicized immigration debates. When we see detained families in foil blankets, it hits the target. There are direct references, such as when Asher blabbers, “I didn’t even want a wall,” but the commentary mostly comes in unspoken details.
It’s directed with Hollywood sheen by Luke Greenfield of the underrated “Let’s Be Cops” (yes, I said it, “the underrated ‘Let’s Be Cops.’ " Fight me). That means everything’s brightly lighted, the score tells us what to expect, etc. But it also means the film moves at a good clip and has a sense of humor.
Unfortunately, it’s also built on a foundation of poorly packed landfill.
It’s no spoiler to say that the overarching point is for Renato to understand why his father abandoned his family and to forgive his absentee dad. Every cinematic clue tells us we are to sympathize with Flavio. And here, “Half Brothers” suffers a complete failure.
Even with the elaborate, telenovela-style backstory that’s gradually revealed, the rationale for Flavio’s actions does not stand up to reasonable scrutiny. “I should have found a way to see you,” or something like that, says the wealthy, successful man who essentially divorced his devoted, loving son along with his wife. Méndez dutifully plays the “I get it now” beats, but none of it rings true. To make matters worse, Flavio turns out to be a terrible father to Asher, apparently because that boy was “different.” He traumatized both kids, and we’re supposed to go with it?
“Half Brothers” is a fun comedy with some heart and intelligence, and it embraces topicality. Then, we’re force-fed that poorly thought-out string of excuses for terrible behavior. It’s like enjoying a fluffy pastry, then biting into something decomposing in the middle.
Rated: PG-13 for some violence and strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 4, Mission Tiki Drive-in, Montclair; Rubidoux Drive-in, Riverside; Van Buren Drive-in, Arlington; Skyline Drive-in, Barstow; and in general release where theaters are open
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