'Half Brothers': Film Review

Half Brothers
Courtesy of Focus Features
More like half-baked.
12/4/2020

Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio star in Luke Greenfield's comedy about a road trip undertaken by a successful Mexican entrepreneur and the free-spirited American sibling he never knew he had.

Buddy movies and road trip movies are two time-honored cinematic genres, and Half Brothers manages to disappoint in both of them. This story of two siblings attempting to fulfill their dying father's last request uneasily veers between juvenile comedy and schmaltzy sentimentality, managing to produce neither laughs nor tears.

Not that it doesn't try very hard, starting with its high-concept storyline involving Renato (Luis Gerardo Méndez, Charlie's Angels), a successful Mexican aeronautics entrepreneur, and Asher (Connor Del Rio, Unfriended: Dark Web), the younger brother he never knew he had. As a child, Renato was devoted to his engineer father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), who inspired his love of aviation by introducing him to the world of radio-controlled model airplanes. But when the country hit the economic skids in the mid-'90s, Flavio left for the United States and never returned, leaving Renato bitterly angry over his father's apparent betrayal.

Cut to the present day, when Renato is about to marry Pamela (Pia Watson) and become a stepfather to her nonverbal, horror-movie-obsessed son (one of the film's many running gags that don't pay off). He unexpectedly receives a call from an American woman (Ashley Poole) who says she's his father's wife and tells him that Flavio, on his deathbed, wishes to see him. Despite his disdain for all things American, Renato reluctantly agrees to make the trip to Chicago, and is shocked when his father informs him of the existence of his half-brother Asher, a goofy unemployed millennial with whom he previously had a hostile encounter in a donut shop.

Cue the inevitable road trip in Asher's vintage diesel-fueled Mercedes station wagon, as the half-siblings embark on a journey to solve a riddle the dying Flavio presents to them, revolving around the mysterious "Eloise," which, as deathbed clues go, doesn't exactly compare to "Rosebud."

Needless to say, there's an inevitable culture clash between the stuffy, pretentious Renato and the buffoonish Asher, who at one point steals an adorable baby goat that winds up accompanying the duo on their travels. Guided by their father's clues, they meet a variety of colorful characters who provide more information about what led him to abandon his family. By the time the mystery is solved, the two brothers have formed a bond, but you'll have long since ceased to care.

Director Luke Greenfield, directing his first feature since the inexplicably successful 2014 comedy Let's Be Cops, never manages to establish a coherent tone for the film, too heavily relying on the supposedly amusing squabbles between the slow-burning, uptight Renato and the irresponsible Asher. Unfortunately, Méndez never manages to make his character remotely likable, and the red-haired Del Rio, who seems to be channeling Carrot Top, is far more annoying than endearing.

The screenplay, by Jason Shuman and Eduardo Cisneros, attempts to make fun of multicultural stereotypes, but largely traffics in them with repeated jokes about fat Americans who think Mexico is notable mainly for its zip lining (wait, I thought that was Costa Rica). But it's even worse when it attempts to be serious, as when Renato has his eyes opened about immigration issues when he finds himself in a Texas detention center.

Had the filmmakers eschewed the ersatz emotionality and gone for broke with profane humor about the culture clash between the two very different central characters, the bland Half Brothers might have been sporadically amusing. As it is, you'll mainly come away thinking about the goat.

Available in theaters
Distributor, production company: Focus Features
Cast: Luis Gerardo Méndez, Connor Del Rio, Juan Pablo Espinosa, Bianca Marroquin, Pia Watson, Ashley Poole, Ian Inigo, Mike Salazar, José Zúñiga, Vincent Spano
Director: Luke Greenfield
Screenwriters: Jason Shuman, Eduardo Cisneros
Producers: Luke Greenfield, Jason Shuman, Eduardo Cisneros, Jason Benoit
Executive producers: Luis Gerardo Méndez, Udi Nedivi
Director of photography: Thomas Scott Stanton
Production designer: RA Arancio-Parrain
Costume designer: Daniela Moore
Editor: Joe Mitacek
Composer: Jordan Seigel
Casting: Anya Colloff, Michael Nicolo

Rated PG-13, 96 minutes