If the title to “Rudo y Cursi” is difficult to translate, the movie itself is even more so. Watching the two soccer-playing brothers of the title, I sometimes laughed at things that I realized later were not intended to be funny, and eagerly anticipated the resolution of setups that turned out to set up nothing. Other elements were completely mystifying.
If you can believe that soccer scouts travel around looking for scrawny, 30-year-old players to bring to the big teams, “Rudo y Cursi” would also have you believe that Rudo, the “tough” character, could be Diego Luna, who looks like he'd go from 130 pounds to 120 if he shaved his mustache. Gael Garcia Bernal is “Cursi,” the “corny” one who gets his nickname from a dance he does after every goal. Such are the foundations for a movie that's tough to fathom, at least at first, and corny to the core.
Rudo and Cursi play community soccer on a dirt field near a banana mill where they work in rural Mexico. Cursi is chosen by the fast-talking Batuta (Guillermo Francella) to travel to Mexico City to try out for a real team. Cursi makes one of the minor-league squads thanks to a series of kickbacks and his own talent (it seems both are necessary). Rudo, increasingly annoyed by his younger brother's good luck while he supervises banana stacking back home, eventually gets his soccer break as well, and the rest of the movie devotes itself to tracking the two brothers' rising and falling circumstances.
Almost everything that happens during the first half of the movie feels apiece with the exaggerated antics of a contemporary comedy, something “Rudo y Cursi” decidedly, and surprisingly, is not. The brothers make outrageous fortunes and lose them in even more outrageous manners. Rudo develops a cocaine-fueled gambling habit and Cursi wastes himself on a bimbo and a lame music video (his real dream is to be a singer).
Some of the boys' foolishness is rather amusing. Cursi (or maybe it's Rudo this time, who can keep track?) gets a pet monkey, always one of cinema's best symbols of refinement. But instead of sticking with purposeful absurdity, “Rudo y Cursi” swings wildly into the unintentional kind with equal helpings of syrupy drama. You know those dumb guys who just bought an expensive monkey? We can care about them, too.
Throughout the proceedings the ever-vigilant Batuta, always flanked by a different, bulbous-chested bimbo, shepherds us with sports aphorisms he must have found in the trash behind the ESPN headquarters. The words are bad but the source, the one who's methodically ushering Rudo and Cursi into ruin, is just as troubling. Excuse me if I don't heed the Jiminy Cricket of equivocators.
The driving principle behind “Rudo y Cursi” seems to be that coarse and corny is funny and endearing, just like the heroes. We are meant to witness how rude and stupid two men act when given fame and fortune, and then care what happens to them, an odd dynamic that works about as well as Cursi's engagement to the most famous woman on Mexican television, Maya (Jessica Mas), whose shallowness and vanity leaves him only more enamored.
Rudo and Cursi inevitably dissipate their talents, but whether their story is meant to be a clever look at the capriciousness of fate, or of how knowing the right and wrong people can help and hinder your life, remains a mystery. In the end writer and director Carlos CuarA3n jettisons both the humor and the human drama for a lady-or-the-tiger surprise ending the two brothers can only win or lose together. Clever by itself, the result has nothing to do with anything but the initial introduction to Batuta. Yes, duo and film come full circle, but only to the extent that we leave the theater as lost as we were in the first place.
The best one can say about “Rudo y Cursi” is that it's a well-meaning attempt to caricature Mexican stereotypes for mainstream audiences, but it comes across more provincial than director CuarA3n probably intended. In the terms of the curiously absent scenes of fA§tbol that might have given this sports movie some kick, it's a weak and futile strike from midfield. (R) 103 min.HHIII S