Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna burned up the screen in the smoldering 2002 film “Y tu mama tambien.” The pair have reunited for the first time since then for “Rudo y Cursi,” the directorial debut of “Mama” co-writer Carlos Cuaron.
Don’t expect this Mexican movie to be a cynical rehash of the earlier one, though. “Rudo y Cursi” is too many things to be that. It’s a spry soccer film, an intense look at brotherhood, an illustration of the sometimes heartbreaking disparity between passion and talent and a wicked satire of contemporary Mexican society. All of these big things are seamlessly wrapped into a compact film that’s by turns terribly funny and terribly touching.
While in “Mama” the characters came from middle- and upper-class families, the half-brothers of “Rudo” have much humbler roots. Tato (Mr. Bernal) and Beto (Mr. Luna) toil on a banana plantation while dreaming of better things. The accordion-playing Tato hopes to hit it big in music — despite having no vocal talent. The sterner Beto pawns his wife’s appliances to repay gambling debts he incurs trying to perfect a “system” that will pay big every time.
Their fortunes change — for the better, but perhaps not for the best — when they’re discovered one hot summer day by Batuta (Guillermo Francella). The soccer scout’s car has broken down near their town, and he sees talent in the brothers while watching them play a game. Both brothers make their way to Mexico City, where they gain fame nicknamed “Rudo” (roughly translated as “tough”) and “Cursi” (or “corny”), names that go a long way to expressing their distinctive personalities.
Fame doesn’t always bring happiness, though. Beto, who loves playing soccer, can’t seem to find the same success as Tato, who couldn’t care less about the game. Tato would much rather be a musician, and he pesters Batuta (who also has music-biz contacts) until he gets Tato a recording contract. The result is one of the funniest things on screen this year — Tato makes a truly corny video for his Spanish cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” Even that monostrosity doesn’t keep him from scoring Maya (Jessica Mas), the most beautiful woman on television.
One doesn’t need to be Mexican to appreciate Mr. Cuaron’s sharp look at his country. Rudo and Cursi go from the lowest society to the highest, and it’s all grist for the filmmaker’s mill. The ambitious Maya is as ridiculous a figure as the banana town’s local drug lord.
The skewering gives the background depth, but the brothers’ relationships with their fame and each other are front and center here. Mr. Bernal and Mr. Luna are talented actors equally at home with the farcical and the funereal. They can bond hilariously over the cheap city food Batuta provides — they’ve never seen Cup o’ Noodles before, but they’re reassured, “They’ve got shrimp inside.” And they can stare each in the face, hinting at a lifetime of love and resentment.
“Life would be easier,” as Batuta says, “if you could distinguish at birth between passion and talent.” Perhaps, but it wouldn’t provide nearly as many jeers and tears.
TITLE: “Rudo y Cursi”
RATING: R (Pervasive language, sexual content and brief drug use)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Carlos Cuaron
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
WEB SITE: sonyclassics.com/rudoycursi/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS