Say What?

By Carl Kozlowski

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Posted March 15, 2012 in Film

A Thousand Words and Casa de Mi Padre get the comedic message across

Ever since the fall of the Tower of Babel, when the Bible tells us an angry God forced mankind to speak in different tongues, people have been coming up with any number of ways to get their massages across.

Two good examples of this are former Saturday Night Live stars Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell, who explore some highly unorthodox ways to make people laugh in their latest films.

In A Thousand Words, Eddie Murphy plays fast-talking book agent Jack McCall, who sweet talks his way in and out of every imaginable daily situation. However, Jack takes things a bit too far when he fakes his way into receiving help from a New Age guru named Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis), pretending to be a rabid fan in order to have him sign a blockbuster book deal.

Sinja soon figures out that he’s being lied to. But, as it turns out, his manuscript has special powers, and after a Bodhi tree—which New Age disciples believe has mystical powers—miraculously appears in his backyard, Jack finds that his life is about to change in a big way.

The tree loses a leaf with every word that spills out of Jack’s mouth, and he soon realizes that when the tree dies, he’ll die as well. So Jack has to limit himself to 1,000 words over the course of a hectic three-day weekend until Sinja can return from a guru conference with the answer of how to save his life.

Forced to consider his words for the first time, Jack uses a series of wilds charades to communicate as he starts to realize the value of his marriage, family and work relationships.

A Thousand Words is notorious for being one of the longest-shelved films in recent Hollywood history, having been rescheduled repeatedly since it was filmed way back in 2008. Perhaps I was a little more easily impressed than usual due to expecting an utter dog of a film, but compared to plenty of other films (and especially compared to other Murphy debacles like Meet Dave and Imagine That), it’s a fairly funny and moving film that features Murphy in a performance he’s fully invested in.

Unfortunately, Words flopped on its opening weekend, perhaps due to too many prior Murphy embarrassments and the fact that its marketing campaign—and, well, the plot itself—neutralize the very reason Murphy is best-loved: His voice. But given a chance, the film could surprise you with its message of forgiveness and family, which is a nice addition to the laughs in the film.

Meanwhile, Ferrell has created a film from an entirely different universe called Casa de Mi Padre, a telenovela spoof in which he speaks fluent Spanish from start to finish while surrounded by a cast that features all Latino actors except Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman. Casa is one of Ferrell’s dream projects, the kind of absurdly whimsical and totally offbeat creation that an actor gets to create as a reward for bringing in billions at the box office.

In it, Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a rancher who’s so simple-minded that his own father regularly mocks his intelligence. He’s also notorious for being a virgin in his mid-40s, with other ranchers snickering that he sure pays a lot of attention to his cows, while Armando swears that he simply hasn’t found the right woman.

Well, that woman arrives quickly enough, on the arm of his younger, smarter and way more successful brother Raul (Diego Luna), who appears suddenly for a visit. It soon becomes clear that Raul is secretly a drug dealer, and as a competing drug lord named La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal, Luna’s costar from the hit film Y Tu Mama Tambien) launches a war, Armando must step up and save the day while winning the girl.

This may sound simple and straightforward enough, but Casa is anything but normal. From beginning to end, it’s designed to be a straight-faced mockery of early-1970s Mexican cinema, from its ridiculous sets to its bad writing, over-the-top spaghetti-Western score and absurdly slow-motion sex and violence. There are also stuffed lions and cougars threatening the men, leading to an animal battle so absurd the movie stops in mid-frame while the filmmakers type a letter of apology onscreen.

Casa is not Ferrell’s typical blockbuster fare, and most filmgoers will likely be confused despite the subtitles provided. But for obsessive Ferrell fans and offbeat-comedy cultists, this is pure cinematic heaven. Love it or hate it, Ferrell deserves kudos for bringing his extremely strange vision to the screen without compromise.


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