Feuding footballers

Sibling rivalry hits the soccer pitch

Rudo y Cursi
Staring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. Directed by Carlos Cuarón. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Tato and Beto are country bumpkins and half-brothers (same mom, different dad). Both become pro soccer stars—Tato as a swivel-hipped striker nicknamed Cursi and angular Beto as a hot-tempered goalkeeper known as Rudo.

Theirs is a comic-satiric tale of rags to riches and back again, crossed with some ill-starred sibling rivalry for good ironic measure. The brothers’ respective misadventures proceed in a rambunctiously sardonic manner that draws on the traditions of Spanish picaresque while also addressing some of the more stinging paradoxes of contemporary Mexican life in this age of globalized cultural and economic disarray.

The title characters are played by Gael García Bernal (Cursi) and Diego Luna (Rudo), the two young Mexican stars who were paired to exceptional effect in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También back in 2001. And Carlos Cuarón, who co-scripted that earlier film with his brother Alfonso, is both writer and director on this one. The on-screen results, this time, are less remarkable, but still distinguished by a pell-mell vision that is, by turns, scathing and good-natured.

Soccer action is limited mostly to a late sequence in which the brothers’ career stories clash in starkly ironic fashion, but a good deal of the film is about the business of professional soccer and its spin-offs into assorted branches of commercialized pop culture—Cursi has pop-music aspirations, and Rudo gets embroiled in the underworld of high-stakes gambling.

Luna and Bernal cavort through all of this with energy and flair, but ultimately they are little more than frontmen for the film’s sardonic, free-floating rambunctiousness. The closest the film comes to a summing-up of its own paradoxical impulses is in the character of Batuta (Guillermo Francella), the wily rascal of a talent scout who is both enabler and exploiter to these two players and who also serves as the picture’s deceptively avuncular voice-over narrator.