Given the market’s desire for escapist films and an audience’s need to placate a media-induced fear of Mexico, the high profile Mexican film Rudo y Cursi may be just the ticket to take arthouse theaters by storm this summer. A kind of Dumb and Dumber of football (that’s fútbol, not football), Rudo y Cursi earns its high profile based on the undeniable star-power of Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal (its two leads), the producing dream team of Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro, and the familial affiliation that director Carlos Cuarón has with brother Alfonso. Light fare at best — inane at worst — the film relies on lowbrow jokes and the charisma of the two leads to lift it above the patently mediocre. Although my translator comes up with “robust and pretentious,” “Rudo y Cursi” probably more accurately means “rough and cheesy,” along with its significance as the eventual nicknames of the two bothers at the film’s center. The serious and surly Beto (aka “Rudo,” played by Luna) nurtures a gambling habit more than he nurtures his family, while the more carefree Tato (aka “Cursi,” and played by Bernal) indulges in alcohol-induced fantasies of becoming a pop star. The brothers eek out a living on a banana plantation, and both participate on a local soccer team. One day, a talent scout arrives and looks to recruit one of the brothers. It’s a rags-to-riches (and back to rags again) story, as the two brothers end up becoming superstars, but on rival teams. Tato earns the name Cursi for his style of play and silly dance he does after scoring a goal. Beto is a confrontational goalie whose rock solid defense merits his nickname. The two find themselves at the heart of the fast-paced world of professional soccer, where the power of sibling rivalry and brotherly love are no match for the corruption of fame and fortune.
Most of the soccer playing happens off-screen, however, as Rudo y Cursi is principally a character comedy that gives Luna and Bernal free reign on idiocracy. Tato’s brief turn as a singer, covering Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” in a ridiculous music video, is nothing short of hilarious. But some of the sardonic humor threatens to hamper its meaningful comedic potential. Everyone will recognize the homophobic irony of Bernal and Luna calling each other “f****ts” ad nauseam, but not everyone will see the wry humor in Beto’s gambling addiction or machismo-induced shower hazing. Frustrated by writing screenplays that don’t get produced, Carlos Cuarón was persuaded by Guillermo del Toro to take the leap from writer to director. Initially, the young Cuarón wanted to make a documentary-style film about a guy from the sticks who makes it big in soccer, but when Luna and Bernal heard his idea they both eagerly raised their hands. His unwillingness to refuse the enthusiastic participation of the two, making it their first film together since Y Tu Mamá También, was probably to the detriment of his artistic integrity, but a boon to his bankability. Cuarón retooled his original script for the dynamic duo, forgoing realism for absurdism. Considering Cuarón, Iñárritu, and del Toro’s visionary first features, Rudo y Cursi is an uninspired choice for the debut of the “three amigos” newly formed production company, Cha Cha Cha, but it will probably pay off. High on style and appeal, Rudo y Cursi aims to please, as long as you don’t set your sights too high and accept its particular brand of humor.