Like soccer, moviemaking is a team sport, and the Mexican team that put together the endearing and devastating coming-of-age escapade Y tu mamá también returns with a feature that is being distributed in the United States with another untranslated Spanish title. Directed by Carlos Cuarón, who co-wrote the earlier film with its director, his older brother Alfonso, Rudo y Cursi stars Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as another pair of innocents who venture forth into the perilous world. Alfonso Cuarón produced, along with Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu and Guillermo Del Toro; this is the first release of the power trio’s new company Cha Cha Cha Producciones. It is a formidable team, but not even Mexico’s great Atlante Fútbol Club wins the championship every season.
During time off from work on a banana plantation, two brothers, Beto (Luna) and Tato (García Bernal) Verdusco, play for their village football soccer team, Beto as a goalie, Tato as a forward. “The poorest fields are where you’ll find diamonds in the rough,” observes Batuta (Francella), a big-city talent scout who happens to be passing through the rural neighborhood. He notices their exceptional athletic talents and tells the brothers: “I’d love to take you both under my wing.” However, he can at the moment fly off with only one. So he signs Tato to a contract, and they drive to Mexico City in Batuta’s fancy red convertible, while Beto stays behind, embittered by sibling jealousy and badgered by a wife who is more impressed by an electric mixer than a famous goalie.
Tato is initially overwhelmed by urban life. However, as Batuta points out, “even the scariest monster has its charms,” and Tato, who earns the nickname “Cursi” (Corny) because of his style of play, becomes a huge success scoring goals for Deportivo Amaranto. Celebrity, sex, wealth, and a recording contract (despite Tato’s mediocrity as a singer) follow. Meanwhile, Batuta eventually scores a professional football contract for Beto (nicknamed “Rudo” on account of his roughness), enabling him to leave bananas behind and become goalkeeper for Atlético Nopaleros, a rival Mexico City team. Perhaps one or the other Verdusco brother can now keep their vows to buy their mother a house. It is inevitable that the siblings meet in a climactic competition, and predictable that they learn the limits of fame and the fickleness of fortune. The plot is thickened but not enriched by drug lords, crooked gamblers, and rabid fans.
The theme of the ambitious young man from the provinces whose ideals collide with the realities of life in the capital was already stale when treated by Balzac and Stendhal in 19th-century novels. Rudo y Cursi adds nothing to the formula except for the setting of Chilangolandia. And the soccer sequences are either unremarkable or unconvincing. Before the era of 24/7 cable coverage, movies could get away with William Bendix, Farley Granger, and Anthony Perkins pretending to be professional athletes. But Diego and García Bernal display as much promise in professional fútbol as Tato does as a musician. It is fortunate that they have day jobs more fruitful than picking bananas. The two young actors (los Charolastras as they became known through a malapropism in Y tu mamá también) are a captivating combination, and in the earlier film their appeal works to entice a viewer into the shallows of the plot before, suddenly, the bottom drops out. But this flashy new work lacks depth. Substituting complications for complexities, it is a live-action cartoon about the perils of pursuing one’s dream, especially if it is basically a wet one.
Rudo y Cursi begins with Batuta’s voice-over narration announcing that “the most beautiful game” is football and that it was invented when severed heads were kicked around a field. Events in the film suggest that things have not changed very much. Yet, despite reversals of fortune, Batuta manages to keep his own head, while the two bumpkins he mentors are dazzled, deified, and ultimately defeated by the Mexican metropolis, where they share an expensive house. The hapless agent’s running commentary consists of sententious pronouncements such as: “All of life is a gamble,” “Reunions are always magical,” and “Loving a woman and a ball is the same thing.” Batuta is an endearing figure, but his statements, like the lessons that this film seems intent on teaching, are either obvious or erroneous. The beautiful starlet (Mas) who takes up with Tato after he becomes a sports idol and then abruptly drops him when he fails is named Maya. And you don’t have to know that Maya is the Hindu word for the illusory material world to realize that country boys who fall for poker, Hummers, and cocaine need to kick for other goals.