Rudo y Cursi

Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal might not have the same comfortable camaraderie as Powell and Loy, Hope and Crosby or Lewis and Martin, but their new movie “Rudo y Cursi” gives a great argument toward having them work with each other time and time again.

The feature-directing debut of Carlos Cuaron, who with his director brother Alfonso Cuaron co-wrote “Y tu Mama Tambien,” the film that first brought Luna and Bernal international acclaim, “Rudo y Cursi” is either a very funny drama or a very somber comedy. Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) Verdusco are brothers who work at a banana plantation. Beto, the older brother, is a field manager while Tato one of the harvesters, and both play on a village soccer team. Nicknamed Rudo (roughly translated to “tough”) for his personality on and off the field, Beto wants to play professionally, while the less serious Tato really wants to become a musician. Fate strikes when Batutu, a soccer talent scout, stops through their little village and sees them play. Wanting to sign both but only able to take one of them with him to Mexico City, Batutu has the brothers decide which one will get to go. Beto, who needs the money that would come with a professional soccer contract to cover his many gambling debts, suggests a shootout and, away from Batutu, tries to convince Tato to shoot the ball to the left so he can stop the ball and get the contract. However, Tato shoots to HIS left, leaving his village and very angry brother behind to find success in the big city. And while playing time is non-existent for Tato at first, he takes advantage of his first gameplay opportunity and quickly becomes a national sensation for his unique style of play. The press, to his dismay, start to call him Cursi (corny), but it’s a step towards the music career he always wanted. With Tato now a star, Batutu returns to the village and brings Beto to Mexico City, for another team in need of a goalie.

Anyone who has spent any time watching movies about competitive brothers (or friends) playing the same sport for different teams knows where all this is going to lead: the two going head-to-head against each other in the most dramatic way possible. So when the game is on the line and Tato is shooting a penalty kick against Beto, it’s almost immaterial how the show turns out. It’s the journey that leads Beto and Tato from their village to this moment that lends gravitas to the proceedings. It’s how Tato reacts to fame and fortune and the famous girlfriend of his dreams (the luscious Jessica Mas), how Beto deals with being away from his wife and children and with his ever-increasing gambling problems, how their manager deals with two rookie superstars and how the brothers want to make sure their mother is taken care of. It’s the little moments that help us care about what happens to these guys.

Sadly, the film falls apart in the final moments, summing up what happens to these people after the big game. There are no actions without consequences, and some here pay a pretty big cost. Not that they weren’t deserving of their comeuppance, just the final tone is a striking contrast to what came before.

As a director, Carlos Cuaron still has some things to learn from his brother Alfonso, who moved on to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and the astonishing “Children of Men” after “Tambien.” Granted, a movie like this does not require the complex camerawork that left audiences speechless during “Children’s” riveting chase sequences, but a big more magic in the camerawork department would have helped.

As the first film from Cha Cha Cha Films, the production company headed by Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro, “Rudo y Cursi” showcases the best of what Mexican cinema can be. Which, if one had seen “Cronos” or “Amores Perros” in addition to Y tu Mama Tambien,” one would already been highly aware of the lofty heights they could reach. And with two great young actors like Luna and Bernal at the top of their game, there is really no reason “Rudo y Cursi” couldn’t find success outside of its target audience, other than Americans’ resistance to subtitles.

Rating: B+