Goodfellas has much to answer for. Since Martin Scorsese’s iconic, wildly influential 1990 mob drama burned itself indelibly in the minds of moviegoers and filmmakers, the film’s stylistic innovations and signature arc—lavish good times punished with a third-act drug-induced moral reckoning—have been ripped off constantly, sometimes artfully (Boogie Nights), sometimes less so. Carlos Cuaron’s otherwise terrific new comedy Rudo Y Cursi barely survives its third-act Goodfellas descent into seedy coke-and-crime drama.
Reuniting the stars (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) and part of the creative team (writer Carlos Cuarón, making his directorial debut, and producer brother Alfonso) behind the cult smash Y Tu Mamá Tambien, Rudo Y Cursi casts Bernal and Luna as markedly different small-town half-brothers leading undistinguished lives until a lovably unscrupulous talent scout (Guillermo Francella) scoops up first Bernal and then Luna to play pro soccer. Bernal is a goofy dreamer who wants only to sing—something he does very, very badly while dressed in what appears to be a sparkly gay cowboy costume in a music video for his unintentionally hilarious cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.” Luna is a brooding husband and father whose coke-fueled gambling addiction imperils both his career as a superstar goalie and his life.
Rudo Y Cursi begins as a delightful satire of the tackiness and crass excess of the nouveau riche, blessed with the same loose, improvisational, French New Wave-inspired vibe, stellar performances, and dynamite chemistry of Y Tu Mamá Tambien. Yet Cuarón’s light touch abandons him once the film takes an unfortunate detour into contrived melodrama. Francella’s performance epitomizes the unfortunate tonal shift. In the early going, he’s an irresistible, Falstaffian scoundrel who delivers a narration at once wry, funny, and philosophical, but he devolves into a standard-issue bad guy late in the game. Bernal gives his flashy would-be pop star a daft, wide-eyed innocence and it’s great to see Bernal and Luna together again, but Cuarón nearly ruins a wonderful comedy by turning it into a much less distinguished drama.