Half Brothers is a funny and compassionate movie. The events that transpire in it are largely unrealistic, but the emotions underneath are definitely realistic, and that's what makes it special. Directed by Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) from a screenplay by Jason Schuman and Eduardo Cisneros, this multi-cultural comedy benefits from smart observations about family bonds. You know where the story is going long before it gets there, yet the outcome is satisfying enough that it scarcely matters.
Renato Murguia (Luis Gerardo Mendez) is a Mexican aviation executive. He inherited his love of flying from his father Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), who crossed the American border in search of work and never came back. Renato, who has spent the intervening years angry and confused, is convinced by his fiancée to visit Flavio on his deathbed. The reconciliation doesn't go well. It does, however, reveal that the uptight Renato has a half brother, the screw-up Asher (Connor Del Rio), he never knew about. They are given an envelope containing the first in a series of clues that will, they are assured, explain everything they could possibly want to know.
From there, Half Brothers follows the siblings as they go on a hazard-filled road trip. Each stop has them encounter someone who knew their father. That person fills in a little more of the picture. I don't want to spoil anything about the mystery, except to say that Flavio found himself in a no-win situation that causes Renato and Asher to think differently of him once they uncover the truth.
A lot of the movie is a standard odd couple comedy, with the free-spirited Asher continually annoying the contemptuous Renato as they travel from state to state. Situations in which they find themselves are generally preposterous. Asher steals a goat, they run afoul of some backwoods moonshiners, etc. Every wacky scenario is designed to drive a wedge further between them until the inevitable heartwarming finale.
Despite being absurd, several of the predicaments elicit laughs, thanks to the fine work from Mendez and Del Rio, who generate amusing chemistry together. We've seen this sort of fractured relationship onscreen hundreds of times before. The actors make it work again by refusing to shy away from the sharp edges of the characters they're playing. Renato and Asher are flawed, if well-meaning people, and they rub each other the wrong way in a manner that feels authentic.
I want to go back to the word “compassionate.” Half Brothers shines in that regard. The clues that the siblings follow expose truths about what happens to a lot of Mexicans who come to America seeking to make a better life for their families. The harshness of that road is addressed head-on, helping to ground the broad comedy. Also notable is a scene in which Renato finds himself arrested and sharing a jail cell with illegal immigrants who have been detained. His privileged life begins looking different once he sees what others are experiencing.
Even if Half Brothers stretches credibility with the mishaps endured by Renato and Asher, the heart at the center ensures we keep watching. During the last fifteen minutes, the pieces of the puzzle do indeed fall into place. By basing Flavio's tale in sociopolitical realities, the movie's finale proves incredibly touching. An ending that could have felt pre-fabricated instead takes on a sense of poignance.
Odd couple road trip comedies are a dime a dozen. Half Brothers has a new angle on the formula, and I enjoyed taking the ride with these siblings.
out of four
Half Brothers is rated PG-13 for some violence and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.