Directed By Luke Greenfield
Starring – Jose Zuniga, Luis Gerardo Mendez, Vincent Spano
The Plot – Renato (Mendez), a Mexican aviation exec, is shocked to learn he has an American half-brother (Zuniga) he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. They are forced on a road trip together, tracing the path their father (Spano) took from Mexico to the US.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and strong adult language
– Spirited performances. The work of Mendez and Zuniga cement the believability of brotherhood, both in their chemistry and distinguishing personalities, which preserves their work with undeterred believability. For Mendez, he’s very much the straight man to Zuniga’s colorful chaos, balancing sophistication and resentment coherently in this outline as a crumudgeon of sorts for the movie’s protagonist. His evolution, while entirely predictable, opens him to varying degrees of bravery and selflessness most recently missing from his first half demeanor, and grows him into the man that both his father and the movie desire him to be. As the comic muscle, Zuniga has a heavier weight to balance within the movie’s intended direction, but illustrates a co-protagonist whose unorthodox personality and carefree simplicity makes him the perfect balance to Mendez’ straight arrow approach. The two dazzle wonderfully together, and constantly elevate the lukewarm material with a commitment to energy that proves, if nothing else, they had fun partaking in the picture.
– Taste of the culture. If Greenfield’s direction excels at just one area, it’s the immersive qualities of the production, which grants us constant reminder to this family’s heritage. Authenticity is the name of the game here, so Luke includes a series of Spanish speaking dialogue exchanged with English subtitles, as well as a series of shooting locations within our neighbors to the south that really capture the essence of Mexico in all of its architectural and traditional values. My favorite aspect of the production, however, goes especially to the movie’s humorously effective soundtrack, which translates the familiarity of American top 40 pop favorites through the Spanish speaking language. The selections are obvious enough to get your memory wheel spinning, and the inclusions are made all the more topical when you consider how they fit so wonderfully into the context of the sequences they invade.
– Screenplay depth. One aspect of the script that I found cherished value in was the social commentary towards America that urges awareness in the way we treat other minority cultures who we deem as different. There are moments when this concept is heavy-handed, particularly during a dust-up with a rebel gang of bikers whom the brothers run into on more than one occasion, but for my money it’s the subtle instances of interaction between these divided nations that gave me insight into the Mexican perspective, and made all the more comically disturbing within these instances of candid honesty. Moments like Americans terribly distorting their names moments after introduction are inserted so cleverly subtle. Likewise, the general conception for Mexico being this dangerously bizarre place is one that irresponsibly paints the picture for a perception captured from a TV screen’s distance, but through moments of learning and growing these people solidifies them as these soul’s with ambitions and dreams just like anyone opposing their views with a contrived vantage point.
– Presentational creativity. Much of Greenfield’s overall shot selection and handheld camera scheme feels a bit too safe in ever challenging the movie stylistically to balance cultural substance in the screenplay. One aspect that did capture my attention, however, was the masterful approach in editing and transitioning that really gives the aesthetic of the movie a cerebral spin into the psychology of these characters. Some involve character transformation, where an adult character can be seen as a physical child before their and our very eyes, proving that this idea that someone sees us as is always living and breathing within this physical evolution that has fallen victim to time. There’s also moments of bending reality that makes two characters not in the same place feel like they’re talking continuously with one another. One such scene involves a video of the father talking to his two boys posthumously, and the way it’s framed shapes out the TV screen they’re watching it on out, and makes it feel like a back and forth conversation with this man sitting right in front of them.
– Cultural representation. Regardless of how the film does, the necessity for these bi-lingual depictions is one that I enthusiastically appreciate, and give the movie credit for with regards to how it weaves in a real life historical significance within this fictional story. The film begins with the family suffering the effects of the Mexican economy crash of 1994. This leads the father to seek fortunes in America, but only begins the problems that many Mexicans faced along the way. If nothing else, it’s valuable to see depictions of immigrant stories far from the narratives of news channels and their intended directions, especially with Greenfield here, who values his characters with the kind of focus that cements them as humans far more than Mexicans, despite the fine sense of geographical pride that resides from within them. It may not reach the breakthrough significance that “Crazy Rich Asians” played on the Asian community, but it does give us a window into the despair that ripped many families apart, one that weighs heavily into the unfolding psychology of the movie’s conflict.
– Formulaic. One could perceive as much in watching the trailer that this is another road trip bromance movie that looks to attain the high’s of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, but crashes into fields of generic storytelling along the way, and unfortunately they would be right. In seeing the film itself, I can say that the movie supplants no surprises that ever made it stand out in an overcrowded subgenre, nor did it ever rid itself of the general outline within these type of movies that this script virtually checks off the longer it progresses. Car troubles? Check, Polar opposites who will eventually grow together? Check, A race against the clock? Check. This and many other obvious directions bog the movie down with the kind of familiarity that constantly made me wonder why I wasn’t watching the aforementioned movie or even “Due Date”. It adds nothing of originality to combat the pre-conceived perceptions, and is the very definition of through the numbers cinema without a shred of anything even remotely memorable to state its place among the greats.
– Tonally convoluted. The direction of “Half Brothers”, like its two protagonists, often feels like a tug-of-war in the balance for control, and one that ultimately weighs heavily on a film that never quite figures out what it wants to be. About 80% of it is a family drama, complete with heartfelt sentiment and family values that tries to warm the heart of anyone in its grasp. Unfortunately, it’s met with the silliest form of humor in the opposing 20% that more times than not soils the sentiment, and underscores the poignancy quite often in the treasures it conjures up. For my money, I wish the creative team behind the film removed the comedy from the film all together. The movie is at its best when it confronts the melodrama within itself and shamelessly owns it, and adding humor to such emotional range feels like the film doesn’t feel confident in its material enough to present a compelling trailer to lure moviegoers in.
– Lukewarm comedy. Speaking of the humor that is contradicting to much of the material, it’s not even effective in the gags and mayhem that it overwhelmingly promises in its comedy-driven manipulative trailer. Comedy is something that is subjective with every person who experiences it, but with regards to my own experiences with the film, I laughed once throughout the entirety of it, and it’s not even necessarily a moment that is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but rather one of those spontaneously cute moments of irony in life that catches up with one character in particular. Aside from this, the various attempts that met their untimely doom bored me, and continuously tested my investment into the film, which resulted in several moments of checking my watch to see how much time I had left. Sometimes a movie needs to just be true to itself and don’t cave to the pressure that comedy is the best evidence of a good time in a movie. In doing so, it would’ve better materialized some of the raw emotions that the script fought so feverishly to earn, and could’ve riddled it of the identity crisis that it continues to have through 91 minutes of cinema.
– Frustrating conveniences. If this were a video game, it would be an artifact narrative, complete with missions along the way towards attaining the hidden treasure. That summary works wonderfully for what takes shape in this film, but doesn’t override the many conveniences in situations along the way that broke my concentration the longer I thought about them. Certain people who the brothers are looking for are always in the right place at the exact moment that they get there. Were these people seriously just sitting there for weeks and months at a time until the moment their friend (The boys’ father) warned them of? What’s even more shocking is that despite none of these people knowing each other, as well as being hundreds of miles apart from one another, their stories continue the narrative smoothly from where it previously left off. Some moments in the flashbacks are a bit too personal to ever feel like they were actually discussed in a conversation. Some feel like unnecessary padding in the bigger picture towards the goal of the narrative. It all makes for moments of logic-stretching believability that screams louder the longer the movie persists, feeling like the ultimate test of patience from this father who chose this route instead of a personable letter.
– Frequently rushed. This is a generalization of everything from the storytelling to the character evolutions, which materialize too abruptly to feel earned in a way that is believable, even by cinematic standards. Considering this is a 91 minute movie with a couple of stops along the way on this bonding road trip, this was inevitably bound to happen. It conveys the feeling that the script could’ve used another rewrite or two, where much of the excess weight of the second act in particular doesn’t build in a way that adds long-term consequences to anything following it, making much of the events of the road trip feel temporarily topical before never materializing again. It’s not even that the movie needs more time, because I feel anything over 91 minutes could test the investment of anyone other than those completely in love with this film. I just think the script needs to tweak its cohesiveness in a way that makes this feel like one continuous direction, instead of a series of ideas that don’t converge magnetically.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+