By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The comedy “Half Brothers” (Focus) feels half-baked. Though director Luke Greenfield’s odd-couple road trip movie produces the occasional laugh, it’s effectively undercut by the fact that neither of its lead characters is a believable figure.
Serious moments meant to inspire reflection on the plight of immigrants to the United States, moreover, though well-intentioned, are equally flawed.
Opening scenes set in early 1990s Mexico establish the close bond between preteen Renato Murguia (Ian Inigo) and his doting dad, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa). So, when an economic downturn forces Flavio to seek work north of the border, Renato is crushed. But still more damaging events await as Flavio abandons Renato and his mom, Tere (Bianca Marroquin), and starts a new family in his adopted country.
Flash forward to the present where Renato (Luis Gerardo Mendez), now a 35-year-old aviation executive, is professionally successful but emotionally stunted. In fact, his lack of empathy has marred his relationship with his fiancee, Pamela (Pia Watson), and with his mildly troubled soon-to-be stepson, Emilio (Mike Salazar).
A few days before the wedding, Renato receives a call from Flavio’s second wife, Katherine (Ashley Poole), summoning him to his father’s deathbed in a Chicago hospital. Though he’s inclined to ignore the invitation, Pamela insists that he go, hoping he’ll achieve a sense of resolution from the experience.
Once Renato arrives, however, Flavio refuses to explain himself. Instead, he introduces Renato to Asher (Connor Del Rio), his son by Katherine, and instructs the half siblings to set out on a combination road trip and scavenger hunt that he believes will show them both why he acted as he did.
Asher turns out to be a happy-go-lucky soul whose upbeat attitude and lighthearted antics — including the spontaneous acquisition of a pet goat — annoy relentlessly angry pessimist Renato. Their one-joke journey together soon becomes something of a slog for the audience. And what’s intended to serve as the picture’s heartwarming climax feels as forced as much of the humor.
The venue for this wrap-up is a convent. But the depiction of a few incidental nun characters — one is grumpy, the next gentle and radiant — will neither edify nor annoy Catholic viewers.
Screenwriters Jason Shuman and Eduardo Cisneros use flashbacks of Flavio’s experience to portray the dangers and difficulties to which Mexican and other newcomers to the U.S. are vulnerable. But they carry things to excess in scenes where an imprisoned immigrant becomes seriously ill and, instead of getting him medical treatment, his guards dump him on a roadside in the desert and leave him there to die.
Just as the would-be humorous portions of “Half Brothers” will leave its audience questioning whether anyone in real life is as vinegary as Renato or as endlessly blithe as Asher, so this interlude provokes a far graver query: Are our Border Patrol personnel truly so lawless and heartless as to be capable of what amounts to manslaughter if not murder? It’s a disturbing moment amid the comic dross.
The film contains a scene of harsh nonlethal violence with gore, an adultery theme, an out-of-wedlock birth, several uses of profanity, about a half-dozen milder oaths, a single rough term and considerable crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.