Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: "Rudo y Cursi"

I'm not sure if I can remember a movie that started out so strong and took such a misguided turn as "Rudo y Cursi." This saga about two brothers who are picked literally off a dirt field to become national soccer stars begins as an insightful and vivacious portrait of rural Mexican life. Once they become rich and famous, though, it quickly devolves into a predictable and tiresome morality play that feels like a close cousin of those trashy telenovellas.

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna became international stars when they starred in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" eight years ago as lusty graduates out for a wild spin. "Rudo y Cursi" reteams them along with Carlos Cuaron (brother of Alfonso), who wrote the screenplay for "Mama" and this film, and also picks up directing duties.

Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are brothers -- or possibly half-brothers; it's not entirely clear -- who work collecting bananas in an outlying Mexican province. They're considered the best soccer (or football, as it's known everywhere in the world except the U.S.) players around, with Tato a flamboyant and prolific scorer and Beto (nicknamed "Rudo") a pugnacious goalie.

One day a recruiter named Baton shows up. While waiting for his flashy sports car to get fixed, he catches their game and immediately offers a pro contract -- but only to one of them. He already has too many clients and can only handle one more. The brothers agree to a penalty kick to decide, with the headstrong Beto instructing the somewhat dimwitted Tato to kick to his right. Alas, they get the my right/your right thing screwed up, and Tato gets the shot at the pros.

This infuriates Beto, since playing pro soccer has always been his greatest ambition, while Tato dreams of becoming a famous singer. Beto has his own problems, since he keeps gambling away the meager earnings his wife puts away for their two small children.

For awhile Tato rides the bench on his team, and Beto stews back at home. But then Baton calls up Beto for his own shot at fame, and Tato finally gets on the field and makes an immediate impact. Nicknamed "Cursi" by the media, soon he's got a swank house, a big SUV, a music video in rotation, and his girlfriend is the TV celebrity he used to slobber over back at his little village.

It's right around this time that the whole movie heads south. Given Tato's misplaced conception about both his musical abilities and the devotion of his lady, and Beto's inability to stay away from the poker table, the rest of the movie sets itself up exactly the way you would think. The last 45 minutes or is just waiting around for the inevitable to dominoes to fall where they must. Frankly, I was just waiting impatiently for the movie to end.

It's too bad, because the first half of "Rudo y Cursi" is as interesting and viscerally engaging as any film I've seen this year.

2.5 stars

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