It’s a miracle “Half Brothers” doesn’t name check Trump at any point during its strained 96 minutes.
Then again, the high-concept comedy doesn’t have to speak the president’s name.
The farce plays out like an open borders campaign ad, albeit one that can’t stop slamming the country Mexicans are killing themselves to call home. That odd push and pull might have made for some dramatic, if not comic, tension. Instead, it’s something to focus on while you’re enduring this laugh-free road trip.
Luis Gerardo Mendez stars as Renato, an aeronautics tycoon who never got over his father leaving him mid-childhood. Renato learns early in the film that his estranged pappy (Juan Pablo Espinosa) is dying and hopes to make amends for his absence.
An embittered Renato refuses at first but changes his mind when his fiance (Pia Watson) suggests he needs some closure in his life. Little does he know that his father has a surprise for him — a half brother named Asher (Connor Del Rio) eager to meet his sibling.
It’s the prototypical pair of opposites: the uptight Renato and the loosey goosey Asher. Can you guess what happens next?
That’s not a knock on the film, just an acknowledgement that the road trip formula is firmly in place. So where are the laughs? It hurts that Asher doesn’t resemble anyone you’ve seen on or off screen. He’s lazy and delusional, madcap sans any of the charisma a character of his type demands. It’s the kind of role Zach Galifianakis might pull off if given the chance to ad lib.
As is, Renato wants nothing to do with Asher. Would you?
The angry entrepreneur isn’t much better. He’s impatient and cold, clinging to a cartoonish image of Americas that plays out before our eyes.
Ignorant. Entitled. Fat. Oh, so very fat.
That’s stereotyping on steroids, but forgivable as a window into his character’s psyche. What’s far less agreeable is how director Luke Greenfield (“Let’s Be Cops”) showcases Renato’s vision of America. It’s mean, ugly and unforgiving. Mexican immigrants are either beaten or left for dead.
Why would anyone risk their life to get here again?
FAST FACT: Actor Luis Gerardo Mendez has spent 20 years appearing in Mexican-based productions before getting cast in U.S. films like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Murder Mystery.”
Greenfield’s visual cues are obvious — signs blaring Guns! or God! or the presence of Americans Flags! It’s “Half Brothers'” way of shouting, “ignorant characters ahead!” And the film repeats the tic over and again, at least as much as the stale running gag about Mexican zip lines.
“Half Brothers” revolves around the dying father’s final plans, a plot device that may explain his decades’ long absence. The reveal shows a man with no agency, no choice but to enter America illegally.
MILD SPOILER ALERT
The Mexican economy collapses, vaguely due to American currency rates, forcing Papa to flea. Only he ends up making very little money, enduring inhumane conditions, once stateside. Would life back in Mexico be any worse? That question lingers, one of dozens of simple premises meant to flatter the characters, not their new home.
Part of the father’s extensive backstory involves a flash of entrepreneurial pluck. It’s a novel twist, but one that doesn’t align with the film’s exhaustive victim mentality, so it’s quickly dropped.
END OF SPOILER
The only running gag worth our while is Renato’s future stepson, an odd boy with a horror movie obsession. The film deftly showcases his eccentricities, a delicacy missing elsewhere.
Oh, did we mention Renato is about to be married? The film barely cares, ignoring the ticking clock nature of the event to focus on more tension between the siblings.
You know what’s coming next, of course.
We get the obligatory scene of illegal immigrants in duress, capped by the Resistance’s favorite meme, immigrant children in cages (you know the ones the Obama-Biden administration built.)
“Half Brothers” wraps with layers, and layers, of sap, unearned sentiment that could have landed had a better story proceeded it.
In the film’s defense, the filmmakers know well enough to quit around the 90 minute mark, and Greenfield’s zippy style is infectious when the story isn’t forcing itself upon us.
Sadly, that’s nearly the entire length of the film.
Some of the puzzle pieces Pappy left behind prove intriguing, and the film looks rich and inviting, especially during the early Mexico sequences. “Half Brothers” makes for a labored experience, but it doubles as a heckuva tourist brochure.
HiT or Miss: The Hate America crowd will cheer “Half Brothers.” Those looking for a fun, frothy road trip adventure will come away starved.