'Rudo y Cursi'

A rags-to-riches parable powered by football, delirious vulgarity and pure personality.

Already one of the top all-time local grossers in Mexico, and seemingly a sure thing for Stateside arthouse success, “Rudo y Cursi” reunites “Y tu mama tambien” stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal under the direction of “Mama” screenwriter Carlos Cuaron for a rags-to-riches parable powered by football, delirious vulgarity and pure personality. Produced by the Cha Cha Cha Films triumvirate of Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and the helmer’s brother Alfonso, pic scores a solid goal for its national cinema and the cause of comedy.

Set on a banana plantation somewhere in rustic Mexico, Cuaron’s script doesn’t pussyfoot around his country’s class distinctions. Stepbrothers Beto (Luna) and Tato (Bernal) are hicks; their mother seems to collect men with unerring misjudgment, and their family life is one of squabbling, children, beer and a blind devotion to soccer. While Tato dreams of going north to become a singer (he can’t sing), the earthier and more volatile Beto just wants to make a living in bananas. But during a local pickup game, a sports agent with the apt handle of “Baton” (the comically oily Guillermo Francella) shows up in his sports car and makes the boys an offer: He’ll take one of them to Mexico City and get him into bigtime soccer. But only one.

And so begins a rivalry that continues through twin careers that travel a dirt road of undreamed-of success, habitual gambling, drugs, bimbos and gangsters. It’s clear where the pic is going; getting there is all the fun.

Bernal and Luna are longtime friends, and their chemistry is perfection, even when the two brothers are at each other’s throats. Upon arriving in Mexico City, where he’s introduced to graft, hazing and the rude realities of cutthroat, major league sports, the belligerent Beto is given the nickname Rudo (“tough”), and the sweeter Tato is dubbed Cursi (“corny”). That Cursi has the more flamboyant and successful career on the field makes Rudo (a goalie) a bit crazy, but he has his moments, too, and their problems and peccadilloes mount as the film makes its way toward the inevitable climactic game.

“Rudo y Cursi” is, not surprisingly, a writer’s movie, but Cuaron uses his less-than-startling visual flair to his advantage: Very little soccer shows up onscreen. What we get are reactions to what’s allegedly happening, and it turns out to be much funnier than if the pic had supplied footage and voiceover.

If there’s a bone to be picked, it’s with the pic’s moral lesson: Don’t reach above your station in life, it seems to say, because you’re bound to become a victim of your own appetites and ego. We’ve seen it all too often before. Fortunately, “Rudo y Cursi” isn’t about sociology; it’s about creating a comic showpiece for two young actors who virtually pop off the screen.

Production values are appropriately rough.

Rudo y Cursi

Mexico

Production

A Sony Pictures Classics (in North America) release of a Cha Cha Cha Films production. Produced by Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro, Frida Torresblanco. Directed by Carlos Cuaron. Screenplay, Cuaron.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Adam Kimmel; editor, Alex Rodriquez; music, Felipe Perez Santiago; music supervisor, Annette Fradera; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; costume designers, Annai Ramos, Ana Terrazas; sound designer (Dolby Digital/DTS), Martin Hernandez; casting, Manuel Teil. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 16, 2009. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Tato - Gael Garcia Bernal Beto - Diego Luna Batuta - Guillermo Francella Elvira - Dolores Heredia Tona - Adriana Paz Maya Jessica Mas

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