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'Rudo' doesn't have much kick

While watching "Rudo y Cursi," I was reminded of that time on "SCTV" when hack comic Bobby Bittman (Eugene Levy) introduced his younger, even hackier brother Skip (Rick Moranis) on an episode of "The Sammy Maudlin Show." The minute Bobby's little brother came out on stage, doing his bumbling, pathetic impressions and putting his big brother's business out on the street, it was embarrassing.

It got me wondering about the relationship between Alfonso Cuaron and his younger brother Carlos, who directed "Rudo." Now, I'm not saying that the Cuarons are hacks. (I'm certainly not calling Alfonso a hack; I've got some "Children of Men"-loving buddies who would hunt me down like a wild boar if I did.) But, from what I gathered, this is basically about a little brother trying pitifully to show up his big brother. And that's what happens in the movie, too.

Carlos even casts Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, who were the stars of Alfonso's breakout 2001 hit "Y Tu Mamá También" (which the Cuarons wrote together) as the dueling half-brothers in this movie. Luna is Beto and Bernal is Tato, two banana plantation workers from a little Mexican town who let off steam by playing local futbol, with Beto (nicknamed "Rudo" for his rude/rough style) as a goalie and Tato as a striker.

One day, a slick pro-soccer scout (Guillermo Francella) catches them on the field and gives them a chance to play professional ball in Mexico City. But there's one problem: He can take only one of them. When they decide via a penalty shot, Beto tells Tato to shoot "to the right," which he does. Unfortunately, Tato shoots the ball to his right, making Beto miss the score. So, Tato ends up going, leaving Beto, shall we say, less than supportive. But eventually the scout gets Beto to the big city to play for another team.

As both Rudo and Tato (dubbed "Cursi" by the public, for his corny/cheesy style) become soccer stars, they get seduced by fame and fortune almost in record time. Rudo gets wrapped up in cocaine and gambling debt, and Cursi pathetically tries to start a singing career (he does a ridiculous Tejano cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me") when he's not splurging on his sexy, game-show hostess girlfriend (Jessica Mas).

From what I've read, "Rudo y Cursi" is supposed to be a satire on present-day Mexico's "narco-society." But "Rudo" is such a nasty piece of work that it's quite difficult to find the biting humor in any of it. (There was one funny scene where Tato is cornered by fans who promise to tear him a new one if his team doesn't win, right before they ask him for an autograph.)

Nearly all the characters in this thing are mentally crippled by selfishness or greed or just plain old obnoxious. (All those people who thought "Observe and Report" was an ugly, ill-tempered movie should really see this, just so they can bask in the misanthropy.) It's as though Cuaron is blatantly putting the possible jealousy and resentment he has toward his older, more successful brother on blast. You can feel Cuaron's bitterness in every frame. It's like he has been taking filmmaking tips not from his optimistic brother, but from that cranky American Peter Berg.

And I've never seen a film go to such great lengths not to show its two lead actors playing soccer. Apart from some strategically shot scenes, Bernal and Luna play soccer the same way Jeff Bridges bowled in "The Big Lebowski," which is not at all.

It seems quite obvious that Carlos Cuaron wants to be seen in the same league as his brother and his visionary buddies Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu (who all share executive-producer credits on this movie). But it's probably gonna take a couple of more films for that to happen. Right now, with just "Rudo y Cursi" under his belt, he's just the Skip to Alfonso's Bobby.

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