Synopsis: A successful Mexican aviation executive is shocked to discover he has an American half brother he never knew about. The half-brothers are forced on a road trip together. masterminded by their ailing father, tracing the path he took as an immigrant from Mexico to America.
Stars: Luis Gerardo Méndez, Connor Del Rio, Juan Pablo Espinosa, Pia Watson, Bianca Marroquin, Mike A. Salazar, Vincent Spano
Director: Luke Greenfield
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: In the days that have passed by since seeing Half Brothers I’ve been telling a lot of people how good it is and the response has universally been, “Really? It looks so silly.” and I can hardly blame them. I mean, just look at that poster. You gaze at that targeted piece of marketing and you think you know exactly who the Mexican American production is aiming for. Here’s a hint, it’s not the Merchant-Ivory crowd. With the wide-eyed expressions and the man holding the goat, it’s understandable how discerning viewers get a tremor of seasickness with the threat of boarding that slapstick comedy cruise line. And that’s piteous considering the studio is selling the film, the stars, and, in the end, itself short because Half Brothers is far more interesting and full of heart than you’d guess if you’re making your choice only off of the advertising.
One of a growing number of movies that has fallen in my lap in 2020 that I knew zilch about before pressing Play aside from the basic premise, I hadn’t even watched the trailer so braced myself for anything. I’ve found that it’s good for me to take this approach because there’s no expectation for what I’m about to find and that helps in the opening set-up of Luke Greenfield’s film, showing Flavio Murguía (Juan Pablo Espinosa) leaving his family in Mexico in search of a better life for them in America. His young son Renato idolizes his dad and is changed forever when sometime later he finds out that Flavio has started a new life with an American family in the U.S. Growing up to be a top executive in the aviation sector of Mexico, Renato (Luis Gerardo Méndez, Charlie’s Angels) channeled his experiences flying model airplanes with his father into making him a successful businessman. He’s about to be married to a single mother (Pia Watson) with a humorously death-obsessed son when he receives a call that his father is dying and wants to see him one last time.
Encouraged by his fiancé to take this opportunity for closure and also as a way to learn to be a more open and caring example for his new stepson, Renato flies to the U.S. but the long history of pain prevents him from fully engaging with his dad. That hurt is compounded when he learns he has a half-brother, the free-spirited and free loading Asher (Connor Del Rio) who he hates on sight, partly because he doesn’t know him but mostly because he’s had their father all to himself for over two decades. They’ll have to learn to tolerate one another because soon the two find themselves on a cross-country road-trip that compels them to work together on a sort of scavenger hunt meant to act as an explanation from their father on a number of unanswered questions and unspoken truths.
I went into Half Brothers expecting something far more ribald and raunchier and was impressed that Greenfield keeps things so light and fast-moving throughout. While it tends to breeze past some of the more nefarious points of the dirty business of immigration trafficking, it also doesn’t shy away from exploring hard choices that are made in the course of doing what’s right. I can see the problematic core of the film which glorifies a type of hero worship onto a character that might not deserve it but dang if I didn’t lose the battle in my fight against some salty teardrops toward the film’s conclusion. While they’re not exactly Laurel and Hardy, Méndez and Del Rio bounce off each other nicely and while we can see the end of the journey so well we practically can see their parking space, it doesn’t diminish the small pleasures of their discoveries about each other along the way. Though we may know how it will wind up, I found the film unpredictable in the best ways and genuinely funny, not obnoxiously so.
Thinking back, I’m not sure exactly how to pitch this film in a way that doesn’t highlight some of the more crazed antics experienced by the men along the way but Half Brothers is as much about the heart as it is about revolving around the comedy. Yes, the scene on the poster is a fun moment of frivolity but its wild shifts in tone keep viewers on their toes and not in that bad way where you have a sense screenwriters Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman didn’t know what they were doing. The often bi-lingual film has a breathless quality to it, rarely stopping to take a rest for its breakneck speed. I think audiences will appreciate that quick pace and observance of time…and I also believe Half Brothers is destined to be one of those underrated comedies that thrives on word of mouth over time. Truth be told, as we get to the end of the year I feel drawn to movies like Half Brothers and Superintelligence, films that have a good natured spirit at their core and let the comedy often be the second item on the menu. The ending wouldn’t have gotten me like it did if I wasn’t invested with these characters and I was very much along for this family road trip.