Half Brothers: Half-Assed, by David Bax
Half Brothers is a phoned-in road trip comedy from Luke Greenfield, director of similarly broad fare such as The Girl Next Door. So it’s a little surprising when, just a few minutes in, it steers into the devastating recession that came as a result of Mexico’s 1994 currency crisis. From time to time throughout, the movie will continue to pause and address these big issues, from racism to the exploitation of migrant laborers to immigrant detainment. It never stops feeling out of place but it’s also a better use of time than anything else Half Brothers has to offer.
Luis Gerardo Méndez stars as Renato Murguía, a successful, self-made businessman from San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico. At a young age, Renato’s beloved father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), abandoned him and his mother and moved to the United States. Now, a quarter of a century later, Flavio is dying and Renato finally agrees to go visit him. There, he meets Asher (Connor Del Rio), Flavio’s American son. They don’t much like one another but find themselves on a road trip from Chicago to El Paso, retracing the life Flavio led since leaving San Miguel de Allende all those years ago.
Despite a handful of good jokes, including a running one about ziplining being the only thing Americans know about Mexico, the most consistently irritating thing about Half Brothers is that it treats obnoxiousness as a substitute for comedy. Méndez’s impression of Tom Cruise in Rain Man is tiring enough but Del Rio is the real offender. He’s all of the annoying things about Zach Galifianakis’ character in The Hangover and none of the funny things. He’s also incomprehensibly ignorant about Mexico for someone who was raised by a Mexican.
For reasons too contrived to bother explaining, Renato and Asher end up with a goat as their road trip companion. Despite welcome appearances from trusty character actors like José Zúñiga and Vincent Spano (Alive reunion!), the goat is the best member of the cast.
When not forcing themselves through the motions of sweaty high jinks, the characters in Half Brothers spend most of their time learning Important Lessons. The movie is like an umpteenth-generation copy of one of those middlebrow 1990s melodramas about men who fail to understand that family is more important than work but then they hear the tinkly piano music and the plaintive strings and all becomes clear.
But the screenplay can’t even be bothered to do the perfunctory work of getting us to these places. When Renato abandons Asher partway through their road trip but then pulls a u-turn to go pick him up again, his change of heart seems to be motivated only by the fact that it’s what the movie requires at that time. Like everything about Half Brothers, from the slapdash ADR jokes and exposition to the desert landscapes of what’s supposed to be central Illinois, it’s half-assed.