The one good thing it has going for it is the charming, funny, committed turn by Gael García Bernal, who is a bona fide movie star, with a face that no camera (or woman, or gay man) can resist.
The rest is at turns pretentious, too breezy, not breezy enough and frankly territory that has been stomped to death about Mexican males and their twin obsessions, male homosexuality and mothers (memo to Mexican males: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET OVER IT ALREADY!).
We were trying to figure out why this movie by Carlos Cuarón (brother of Alfonso) doesn't work. For me, the main reason is that the characters are passive losers to which things happen to, as opposed as them making things happen to them, which is the essence of drama. No matter how charming or likeable, if they are only the hapless recipients of twists of fate rather than the architects of their own destinies, there is not enough interest or momentum to sustain the story. Gael inhabits his character, Cursi, with far more conviction and less of an exaggerated hick accent than Diego Luna, who is not believable as Rudo, who is supposed to be a tough bastard. They have a nice rapport together, sort of like the Tracy and Hepburn of guys, but its not enough. Actually, the actors try their best to fill the void. They are both written as total losers and it's hard to keep up the good spirits and the empathy when they don't seem to have the minimum of resources to get a grip on their lives.
This I find quite unsettling. Is it a coincidence that because these two brothers are peasants, they are so passive? Is this yet another subtle form of the contempt that many Mexicans from the upper classes refuse to believe they have for their less fortunate countrymen? I found Diego Luna's accent bordering on the offensive. But more disturbing is the fact that the brothers are treated as wide-eyed innocents, passive vessels in a corrupt world, yet another insulting version of the noble savage, almost.
I would think that Carlos Cuarón, who cowrote the splendid, socially smart Y Tú Mamá También, was above this kind of patronizing attitude.
There are many instances of topics illustrated too offhandedly, with a brazeness that is not smart but artistically irresponsible. For instance, the lovely young sister of Rudo and Cursi marries an old, fat, rich narco and everybody in her family seems to think it's all hunky dory. No doubt the narcos' riches are seductive to many of the poor, but if a satyrical point is being made, it's hard to see exactly what it is. That we Mexicans are all complicit in corruption? That without resources everybody falls? It's a disgusting argument. This lack of a strong point of view makes the movie seem stupider than I suspect it wants to be.