Rudo Y Cursi is a reunion, of sorts; it co-stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, who previously shared the screen in Y Tu Mama Tambien, and it is directed by Carlos Cuarón, who co-wrote that film with its director, his brother Alfonso. For much of its running time, it shares much of that film’s off-the-cuff energy and charm, complimenting its sharp screenplay with the same kind of intimate, subtly handheld photography that helped give that film its immediacy. And then it all falls apart.
Bernal and Luna play the title characters, two brothers from a poor Mexican village who work as banana farmers and play soccer in their free time. One day, a talent scout (Guillermo Francella) rolls through town, sees the pair play, and offers to take one of them back to Mexico City with him to try out for the pros. There’s a bit of bad blood between them over which one gets to go, but soon they’re both making their way in the big-time world of professional soccer.
The first hour or so of Rudo Y Cursi has a terrific momentum; it’s beautifully paced, the scenes zip by, and the performances are just right. Bernal and Luna have the bitter sibling rivalry thing down pat—one wonders if their off-screen relationship has helped color the history of these two men. Cuarón’s screenplay develops stark contrasts between the pair and rides them out. Rudo (Luna) is high-strung, bitter, frequently angry, while Cursi (Bernal) is more of a carefree, childlike innocent. He doesn’t even really want to play soccer—his heart is in music, and one of the film’s most inspired comic sequences comes after he’s become a soccer superstar and has the cachet to make a record: a cheeseball Tejano cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” complete with a lousy, poorly made music video. That’s a funny idea, although it’s subsequently trotted out two more times, and nothing’s worse than a good joke told too often.
As the brothers become more rich and famous, a few cliché beats start to creep in—drugs, gambling, women, and other distractions—but, at first anyway, they’re played with freshness and spontaneity, and we don’t lose hope for the picture. The trouble comes around the top of the third act, when Cuarón takes an unsuccessful turn on his material and starts to take it too seriously.
You see, Rudo is deep in gambling debt—so deep that he’s weighing an offer to throw an important match. And guess who’s playing against him in that match? Cursi, who has let a recent heartbreak throw him into a losing streak. It’s his last chance for a comeback! The whole thing is too damned contrived, and it’s at this point that we start to realize that the script is building up quite a pile of worn-out sports movie devices.
Rudo Y Cursi starts out as such a unique and quirky movie, it’s hard to believe that it degenerates into a story that is resolved with not just a Big Game, but the final Big Play at the Big Game. Cuarón is doing clever things right up through this miserable cliché of an ending (and even in the somewhat unexpected beats that follow), but it’s become a final Big Play at the Big Game movie nonetheless, and you can’t steer out of that. It’s disappointing when a movie with this much talent involved doesn’t land, when it gives itself over to ancient, rusty storytelling conventions, because when they allowed themselves the leeway to tell a story and have some fun, they were really on to something."Rudo Y Cursi" opens in limited release on Friday, May 8.