Review: ‘Half Brothers,’ starring Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio

December 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Luis Gerardo Méndez and Connor Del Rio in “Half Brothers” (Photo by John Golden Britt/Focus Features)

“Half Brothers”

Directed by Luke Greenfield

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and the United States, the comedy film “Half Brothers” features a cast of Latino and white characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two half-brothers—one who’s Mexican and the other who’s American—have conflicts with each other when they’re forced to go on a road trip together as part of their father’s dying wish.

Culture Audience: “Half Brothers” will appeal primarily to people who like dumb comedies with obnoxious main characters.

Juan Pablo Espinosa and Ian Inigo in “Half Brothers” (Photo by John Golden Britt/Focus Features)

What does it say about a movie when a goat is the most appealing character in the film? A goat is used as a “cute pet” gimmick in the awful and dimwitted comedy film “Half Brothers,” which takes a very unoriginal comedy concept (two opposite people who don’t get along are forced to spend time together) and shoves it in viewers’ faces in extremely annoying levels. The movie is also filled with hateful stereotypes about Mexican and American cultures without any sense of witty irony. And the movie becomes so repetitious that many viewers will be bored enough to fall asleep.

“Half Brothers” (directed by Luke Greenfield and written by Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman) is the type of movie that seems like it could’ve been a made in a previous century when people were more accepting of stupid comedies that rely too heavily on broad ethnic stereotypes. What’s worse is that “Half Brothers” is one of those movies that thinks it’s funny but it’s not, so it uses the same type of ethnic jokes for the entire movie. That’s not to say that racial and nationality differences can’t be used in comedy, but there has to be some intelligence behind it or something that will make people think about race and nationality in a more important context, instead of just spewing hate.

Everything about “Half Brothers” reeks of toxic masculinity and the misguided idea that being loud-mouthed or a jerk automatically means that you’re funny. And this is one of those movies where almost all of the women with speaking roles are literally only in the movie to play characters who either marry the men, work for the men, or be nuns. It’s just such a disgusting display of small-minded, outdated and idiotic sexism.

There’s supposed to be a big “treasure hunt” aspect to the story that has an outcome that is incredibly predictable to anyone smart enough to notice the obvious recurring theme about the father/son relationships in this movie. The beginning of the film takes place in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. Viewers see a father named Flavio Murguía (played by Juan Pablo Espinosa) watching while his son Renato (played by Ian Inigo), who looks like he’s about 10 or 11 years old, is flying a remote-controlled toy plane.

Flavio (who is an aviation engineer) and Renato both love planes, and Flavio promises Renato that one day, he will build a real plane for Renato. However, Renato is quite the little brat because he likes to fly his toy plane as a way for it to pester people, scare unsuspecting victims, or do property damage. Flavio thinks it’s hilarious that Renato uses the remote-controlled plane to cause mischief, and he encourages his son to irritate people with pranks. Sometimes Flavio gets in on the pranks too. Flavio also lets his underage child drink beer with him. It’s all Flavio’s way of bonding with Renato, who is Flavio’s only child at this point.

Renato is too young to know that any parent who acts this irresponsibly is going to end up hurting people emotionally. And that’s exactly what happens to Renato, as well as Flavio’s wife Rene (played by Bianca Marroquin), who is Renato’s mother. She’s one of those passive wives who has a “boys will be boys” attitude when she sees how her husband is teaching their son some questionable morals.

San Miguel De Allende is hit hard by an economic depression. Businesses in the area are shut down, and unemployment is high. The Murguía family sees a news report on TV that the demand for the U.S. dollar is much greater than the Mexican peso. Flavio ends up reluctantly leaving his family to travel to the United States with a group of other Mexicans to try and find work.

When Flavio arrives in the U.S., life is tough for him because he doesn’t speak English at first. In the movie, it’s implied that he’s an undocumented immigrant. Therefore, he can’t get a job in his chosen profession. He has to do menial jobs with other Mexican immigrants.

There’s a scene where Flavio is in a group of Mexican immigrants who are hired on a farm as cheap labor to replace the American workers. The scene literally shows the Mexican immigrants walking past the laid-off American workers, who stare at the Mexicans with hatred. This movie is not subtle at all about its intentions to fan the flames of bigotry in many of its scenes.

It’s not shown right away in the movie, but it’s eventually revealed that Flavio has learned English and gotten a job working for an American aviation company in Chicago. Because he’s supposed to be “brilliant,” according to this movie, Flavio comes up with some clever engineering ideas that catches the eye of a woman whose family owns the company. Her name is Katherine (played by Ashley Poole), and she and Flavio end up having an affair.

Flavio has feelings of guilt about the affair and plans to go back to Mexico to his family. But Katherine gets pregnant (Flavio is the father) and gives birth to a boy named Asher. Through a serious of circumstances, Flavio never goes back to Mexico, and he essentially abandons his first family to start a new life with Katherine and Asher. Flavio also becomes a successful executive at the airplane company.

Flavio dumps his wife Rene over the phone. She and Renato are devastated to find out that Flavio is not coming home as promised. Rene and Flavio eventually get divorced. Flavio marries Katherine and spends the rest of his life in Chicago with her and their son Asher, who is the only child they have together. However, Asher is a strange and hyper kid, and Flavio isn’t that great of a father to him either. Flavio doesn’t really emotionally connect with Asher, who grows up feeling doubts that his father truly accepts him.

Years later, Renato (played by Luis Gerardo Méndez) is now a 35-year-old ambitious and aggressive entrepreneur who has started his own successful aviation company in Mexico. He is engaged to be married to a single mother named Pamela (played by Pia Watson), whose son Emilio (played by Mikey Salazar), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, is someone Renato feels uncomfortable being around because he thinks Emilio is too weird. Emilio does things like walk around wearing gory Halloween masks, and he uses squirt guns filled with green goo on Pamela and Renato. It’s an obvious cry for attention, but Renato just treats the kid like a pest.

The adult Renato is also extremely prejudiced against Americans. He hates America so much that he refuses to expand his company into the United States. In an early scene in the movie with the adult Renato, he’s doing an interview with an American female reporter (played by Shira Scott Astrof), and Renato spews a lot of hateful rhetoric about Americans. Renato’s publicist Perla (played by Nohelia Sosa Crisafulli), who is there during the interview, nervously tries to change the subject.

Renato’s rant includes him telling the reporter his list of reasons for why he despises Americans: “They’re entitled, they’re ignorant, they think Mexico is just a bunch of drug cartels and Cancún. They’re idiots. And you know what else? They’re fat!”

Even after this incredibly xenophobic tirade, this movie excuses Renato’s ignorant mindset by having the two women laugh it off. It makes all of them look stupid. And it’s a gross display of how the filmmakers think it’s funny too.

At home, Renato is just as insufferable as he is at work. While going over the guest list for their wedding, his fiancée Pamela points out to Renato that he only has three guests, while she has 60 guests. She half-teasingly comments that Renato has no friends. It’s one of the few things in this movie that makes sense, because Renato is a self-centered and arrogant bigot.

Meanwhile, when Pamela mentions to Renato that her son Emilio is being bullied at his school, she asks Renato to give Emilio a pep talk to make Emilio feel better. Renato reluctantly talks to Emilio, and Pamela notices that Renato makes only half-hearted and awkward efforts to bond with her son. Pamela wonders out loud to Renato if she should marry someone who can’t really love her son like a father should.

The wedding is five days away when Renato gets an unexpected call from Katherine, his father’s second wife. Katherine tells Renato that Flavio is dying (she never says what kind of illness he has), and she asks Renato to come to Chicago to see Flavio before he passes away. Renato’s immediate reaction is to say no, but Pamela talks him into going on the trip.

When he arrives in Chicago, Renato’s rideshare driver Irene (played by Mona Malec), who picks him up at the airport, is his worst nightmare because she’s every stereotype that he thinks about Americans: She’s overweight and ignorant about Mexican culture. Upon hearing that Renato is from Mexico, Irene starts speaking to him louder and slower (as if he can’t understand English) and then asks him what Cancún is like. Irene is also shocked to hear that Renato has never ziplined in his life, because she thinks that ziplining is the main leisure activity in Mexico.

At a coffee shop, Renato is standing in line when he sees a loudmouthed red-haired man doing a livestream on his phone, as if he’s some kind of social-media star. After he finishes his livestream, the man gets behind Renato in line and asks him for money to buy a donut. A disgusted Renato says no, but the man keeps pestering Renato to give him money.

The motormouth redhead notices that the barista behind the counter has a nametag with the name Beatrice, but he insists on pronouncing her name as Beat Rice. When Renato gets to the counter, he tells the barista Beatrice (played by Teresa Decher) that he wants to buy all the donuts in the shop, and he wants her to immediately throw the donuts away. He flashes a wad of cash to make it happen, while the pesky redhead behind him tells Renato that what he just did is cruel. Renato just smirks.

But is this the last time that Renato will see this irritating loser? Of course not. When Renato goes to the hospital to visit Flavio on his death bed, who walks in the room just a few minutes later? The redhead from the coffee shop. And it should come as no surprise to anyone but Renato that this guy is his half-brother Asher (played by Connor Del Rio), who becomes more and more obnoxious as the story goes on.

After Flavio very awkwardly introduces the brothers to each other, he tells them that he has a gift for them. It’s an envelope with a message that leads to some clues for a hunt to what Flavio hints is a big treasure. They have to find someone or something named Eloise at the end of the trip. And Flavio insists that the only way they can get the treasure is if they do the hunt together.

And of course, it’s a cross-country trip because there would be no “Half Brothers” movie without a contrivance of these two cretins being stuck together for days during this road trip. The brothers are too greedy not to find out what this treasure is. And there’s a “race against time” because Renato needs to get back to Mexico in time for his wedding.

Keep in mind that Renato met Asher just five days before his wedding. Flavio dies very soon after Renato and Asher meet each other. But somehow, this moronic movie crams in Flavio’s funeral too, even though it would take at least a few days for the funeral to be prepared, thereby taking time away from the road trip. Therefore, the timeline of the road trip doesn’t add up. But the “Half Brothers” filmmakers think people watching this movie are too stupid to notice a big stinking plot hole like this one.

During the road trip, Renato takes on the role of the “smart” brother, who is condescending to “dumb” brother Asher, whose job experience includes being a “brand ambassador” (someone who hands out flyers) and a failed waiter at Chili’s. Renato likes meticulous planning. Asher is impulsive. You get the idea of how the rest of the movie is going to go.

The goat comes into the picture early on in the road trip, when Renato makes the mistake of falling asleep while letting Asher drive the bright orange Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbodiesel that they take on the trip. When Renato wakes up, he sees Asher running away from a farm with a young goat in his arms. Some angry farm employees are chasing after Asher, but he’s able to put the goat in the car and drive away before he can get caught.

Asher stole the goat because he thought the goat was silently speaking to him to free it from the farm. And why did Asher stop at the farm in the first place? He saw a road sign advertising that the farm was open to visitors. Renato is furious when he finds out that Asher took a detour of more than 100 miles to go to the farm. The goat is really the only adorable thing about this terrible movie.

“Half Brothers” is a series of these not-very-funny scenarios that usually involve Asher doing something idiotic that causes a setback, and Renato getting angry at him and trying the fix the mess that Asher made. The brothers get into predictable fist fights too. And as for Eloise, this movie can’t even come up with a good mystery in this treasure hunt because it’s so obvious what the “treasure” is, if you think about what a guilt-ridden Flavio would give as his final gift for his sons to find.

Aside from the terrible jokes in “Half Brothers,” the movie’s road trip is very unimaginative and doesn’t show much appreciation for the different locales that are visited. The personalities of these two louts don’t get better as the trip goes on. They get worse, until the movie tries to cram in some phony sentimentality at the end that anyone with a brain can see coming. It’s enough to say that the ending of “Half Brothers” is as creatively bankrupt as the rest of the movie.

Focus Features released “Half Brothers” in U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020.