The last time Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna hooked up on screen it was in a little film called Y Tu Mamá También. That famously sexy drama, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, became a runaway art house hit, nabbed countless awards and ended up nominated for an Academy Award. Now, seven years later, the actors have reunited for another film with director ... oh, wait, that credit says “Carlos Cuarón.” That’s Alfonso’s little brother. He’s directed a couple of short films. OK, so maybe expectations shouldn’t be so high.
Despite the participation (as producers) of seemingly every Mexican moviemaking heavyweight in the last 10 years (Alfonso Cuarón from Y Tu Mamá También and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alejandro González Iñárritu from Amores Perros and Babel, Guillermo del Toro from Cronos and Hellboy), Rudo y Cursi is a modest, unabashedly crowd-pleasing and occasionally corny parable about family, soccer, sibling rivalry, soccer and national identity—but mostly soccer.
Bernal and Luna play Tato and Beto, two rather half-witted half-brothers from a tiny farming community deep in Mexico whose lives revolve largely around the game of football, or soccer as we Yanks insist on calling it. Tato is the older, seemingly more responsible bro. He’s got a wife, two kids and a job supervising pickers at the local banana plantation. Beto is the impetuous young Turk, happy to spend his days lazing around and his nights carousing with hometown honeys.
One day, a fast-talking soccer scout arrives in town looking for fresh talent. Tato and Beto aren’t exactly in their teenage prime, but they’ve got obvious skills as a ball-blocking goalie and a fast-scoring forward, respectively. Unfortunately, the scout can only take one man. A disappointing face-off at the net lands Beto the all-important tryout with a professional team in Mexico City and leaves Tato stuck hauling bananas and raising kids in backwater Jalisco.
Uncontent to leave its rivalry in the emotional realm, Rudo y Cursi soon recruits Tato for another pro team. Initially, the two brothers try to support one another, living together and encouraging each other’s success. But the stresses of fame and fortune soon blindside our boys. Tato (nicknamed “Rudo” for his brusque style) sinks into drugs and gambling. Beto (nicknamed “Cursi” for his pretty boy looks) hooks up with a floozy model and tries to launch a singing career. Soon they’re at each others throats both personally and professionally. Anyone want to bet on what the film’s climax will look like? Will it involve the two brothers facing off against one another in the championship game? Will it have Tato on the edge of a record-breaking shutout? Will it see Beto about to be cut from his team if he doesn’t score the game-winning goal? Will it all come down to a single overtime penalty kick featuring Tato and Beto staring one another down as the crowd stands and cheers in excruciating slo-mo? ... Yeah, pretty much.
Rudo y Cursi has its moments. There’s a decent amount of amusement to be had in the boys’ improbably rapid rise to fame. At one point, Beto records an accordion-laden Tejano cover version of “I Want You to Want Me”—a choice that is both ridiculous and spot-on for a suddenly hot Mexicano sports star. The film also has quite a bit of fun with the love/hate relationship between fans and players. Team-worshipping zealots who beg for autographs and threaten to kill losing players in the same breath are some of this film’s more clever observations.
If only the story weren’t so predictable. If only the characters weren’t so clichéd. If only Cuarón could have settled on a tone—which currently waffles between cartoonish slapstick and some fatalistic, South of the Border version of Mean Streets. Still, if Spanish is your first language and you love soccer with a fervor equaled only by your love for the Virgin Mary, then Rudo y Cursi is the Latin American “Beavis and Butt-head”-meets-Rocky of your dreams.