‘Rudo y Cursi’ – fast and unfocused
July 9, 2009
It’s hard to say exactly what was the motivation behind “Rudo y Cursi.” A few laughs? Maybe; the Mexican film does have an appealing, broad (if often vulgar) sense of humor to it. A cautionary tale? Could be; its story of two brothers from a tiny village who scrape their way to futbol stardom in Mexico City, only to find the big city is bigger and badder than they had imagined; there is an obvious message of warning.
Taking the more cynical view, my bet is that “Rudo y Cursi” was simply a vehicle to reunite three of the players behind the huge 2001 hit, “Y tu Mama Tambien” – actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, and screenwriter Carlos Cuaron. The two films share some other similarities: fast pace and high energy, a mix of comedy and drama, a take on sex and nudity that tends to make American cinema seem prudish.
One thing the two do not share is the director: In the earlier film it was Alfonso Cuaron, who went on from “Y tu Mama Tambien” to direct one of the Harry Potter movies, and the gripping sci-fi thriller, “Children of Men.” In “Rudo y Cursi,” the director’s seat is occupied by his brother, Carlos, who remains better known as a writer.
“Rudo y Cursi” is one of those movies that moves by in a rush. It is on the short side – about an hour and 40 minutes – and it packs loads of action, plot and subplots into that span. Let’s see: There are the two brothers, with their separate stories: The handsome forward Tato (Bernal) who would rather be a singer than a soccer star, but will take any chance to get out of his village. And there’s Beto (Luna), who is shy, and mostly dedicated to his small-town wife, though his gambling habit occasionally gets in the way of his devotion.
A more focused effort might have stuck to the brothers. Bernal, who has made his mark in “Babel,” The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Amores Perros,” is an enormously appealing actor. Luna had a recent high-profile appearance in “Milk” playing Jack Lira, the unstable boyfriend of Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk. Asking an audience to concentrate their attention on these two actors wouldn’t have been asking too much. And in their shared backgrounds but also their rivalry and contrasting personalities, there is plenty of material to chew on.
But there is more, much more. There’s the boys’ sister, who ends up marrying the local drug kingpin. There’s Beto’s wife, who launches a promising career as a cog in multi-level vitamin sales company. There’s the insanely hot Mexican TV star who falls for Tato (careful on this one; blink and you’ll miss the romance) before moving on to one of his teammates. There are mobsters. There is soccer. There is the repeated version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” – but in Spanish, with accordion as the instrumental centerpiece.
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Most intriguing among these side tracks is Batuta (Guillermo Francella), the hustling sports agent who discovers Tato and Beto. With his sparkling eyes, his inexplicable connections, and the fact that he provides the film’s voice-over, Batuta has undertones of the super-natural. He seems like a puppet-master to the brothers, and you fully expect some diabolical revelation in the end. Unfortunately, he too turns out to be mostly a distraction.
“Rudo y Cursi” is entertaining, sure, but that’s as far as its impact goes. For a film that trades a lot in sports cliches, writer-director Cuaron has forgotten one of the most widespread – and most important. Keep your eye on the ball.