Bummer, daddy. One doesn’t go to the movies, especially these days, expecting to dislike the film. But there really isn’t anything much to amuse the audience for the new feature “Half Brothers.”
While it has been sold (in TV commercials) as a comedy, “Half Brothers” is actually a tear-jerker. And while moviegoers might possibly excuse the advertising bait and switch, they probably won’t be able to enjoy the movie anyway. You see, there isn’t a likable character in the cast.
Consider the primary people of the story. Dad is a Mexican national who comes to the U.S. illegally to work long hours for low wages at a dangerous job. He has an experience that causes him to stay in the States even after he has accumulated the fortune he promised to bring back to his family.
In fact, he sets up a new family in the Midwest. And then he fails his U.S. son because the kid doesn’t compare well with the 10-year-old he left behind. On his deathbed, he calls both his sons to a Chicago hospital, interrupting his Mexican son’s wedding preparations.
Days-to-ceremony becomes the ticking clock in the road picture which follows the boys as they go on a “scavenger hunt” that Renato (Luis Gerardo Mendez) identifies as such before he has even heard it described. He and habitually goofy screw-up Asher (Connor Del Rio) take off in an orange Mercedes station-wagon, leaving after the Chicago funeral.
They drive through small town Illinois to St. Louis and dad’s old radio-control plane factory. There, one of Dad’s old friends, a man they meet in a bar, gives them their next clue. And here the movie gets into one of the unfortunate habits common to road pictures — each sequence of events seems like the one before it.
Half Brothers was made by Luke Greenfield, a director who once made “The Girl Next Door.” To be fair, though, his last feature film was 2015’s “Let’s Be Cops.”
There are occasional attempts to use the story to encourage viewers to feel more sympathy with illegal immigrants. These are undercut, though, when the movie shows that Dad was arrested by ICE as he was trying to LEAVE the U.S. and that once he got sick in jail, they took him out and dumped him by the highway in the desert.
On the other hand, “Half Brothers” is not very kind to working-class Americans. At best, they are like the yahoo Lyft driver who picks up Renato when he arrives at O’Hare.
At worst, they are members of squads of jeering rednecks who seem to fill the bars and line the roads almost everywhere the brothers go. And the movie undercuts that line of attack by showing that the beer and Wrangler set is usually mad at Asher because he has stolen from them, has reneged on a bet made with them or has occupied their cabin in their absence.
We don’t much care for Asher partly because he is always stealing and lying and imposing. We don’t like Renato because he is so sensitive about not being an American. And we don’t care for Pop because he deserted his family.
So we don’t find anyone to root for in this movie. Comedy, of course, depends on sympathy. Pathos requires it. No matter what the makers thought they were doing with the story of “Half Brothers,” they had a responsibility to give us characters we could like.
As things turned out, they only made a movie that is pretty difficult to enjoy.