Eight years ago, the unexpected crossover success of Y Tu Mamá También, starring the then-obscure duo of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, transformed Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón into an overnight sensation—so much so that he was immediately tapped to direct the third Harry Potter movie. Now, rather belatedly, here comes Alfonso’s brother, Carlos Cuarón (who co-wrote Y Tu Mamá), hoping that lightning just might strike twice. Rudo y Cursi, Carlos’ directorial debut, stars Luna and García Bernal as half-brothers working on a banana plantation in a hick Mexican town that’s way too small for their grandiose dreams of fame and fortune. When a soccer talent scout (Francella) winds up stranded not far from their dusty pickup game, both Beto (Luna) and Tato (García Bernal) find themselves suddenly courting the big time, where their antics on the field earn them those titular nicknames. (“Rudo” means something pretty close to “rude,” while “Cursi” seems untranslatable—some affectionate variation on “cute” plus “dorky.”)
Much like Sugar, the recent baseball movie that wasn’t really about baseball, Rudo y Cursi devotes relatively little time to feats of athletic prowess, preferring to examine the various ways in which these two lunkheads have their puny brains warped by temptation. Beto/Rudo sees his gambling problem balloon when he discovers the lure of high-stakes poker, while Tato/Cursi, who dreams of being a pop star, shoots a hilariously awful video for his Spanish-language cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” But where Y Tu Mamá, under Alfonso’s sure hand, deftly and almost imperceptibly shifted from horndog comedy to existential drama, Rudo y Cursi merely tosses a number of disparate tones together and lets them duke it out. Carlos never seems entirely sure whether he’s making a light buddy picture or a dark satire, and he’s not exactly immune to formula: If I tell you that Rudo is a goalie and Cursi a forward, and that they wind up playing for rival teams, guessing the nature of the climactic scene should take you about four seconds. The movie does have its goofy charms—thanks mostly to its two stars, who are friends in real life and have terrific joint chemistry—but don’t expect to see Carlos hired to helm Iron Man 3.