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Half Brothers packs enough heart and food for thought to make the road trip comedy’s occasional potholes a little less jarring.

Air Raid

Renato, Asher... and a goat
Renato, Asher... and a goat

On the surface, it doesn’t look like much. But, to paraphrase an old adage, never judge a movie by its poster. Half Brothers gets off to a pretty impressive start; it mixes a smidge of nostalgia with some good humor, then shifts into its dramatic component. Even better, it’s a tone-morphing trick the movie manages to rather deftly maintain from start to finish.

It’s all done in service to a story that has some meat on its bones, although at times the meat’s a little overcooked.

So, here’s the deal. It’s about a loving — albeit imperfect — father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa in a solid theatrical debut), who leaves Mexico back in 1994 in order to find greater success in the U.S. With the peso devalued and the Mexican economy in tatters, the dire circumstances require drastic action. But, as with so many things in life, Flavio’s plans meet challenges, setbacks, triumphs and detours.

Back home, his son, Renato (Luis Gerardo Mendez, the 2019 Charlie’s Angels reboot), feels abandoned. But at least he manages to channel that distress into making a successful aviation company — building on a favorite pastime he shared with his father, flying model planes. Trouble is, on the emotional side, that’s left Renato a little short on empathy. He’s not particularly well-liked; he’s not surrounded by a horde of friends. But he is, nonetheless, engaged to a beautiful woman who has a rather troubled, socially challenged young son who doesn’t exactly bond with Renato.

Odd Couple

All of that sets the stage for a transformative road trip. Something on the order of a couple decades after his father left, Renato is invited to Chicago to visit his father in the hospital. Flavio’s bleak prognosis means time is of the essence.

In addition to flying model planes, Flavio and Renato shared a love for riddles and, with that, Flavio stages a grand road trip for Renato to solve one final riddle. But he’ll have to do it with his newfound half-brother, Asher (Connor Del Rio, Unfriended: Dark Web), a child Flavio had as part of his new life in America involving a new wife, who was also his manager at a factory.

Asher’s a piece of work, to put it mildly. His is a cashless wallet, which means two things: his “liquid” is tied up in investments (which, Dude, means it’s not liquid if you can’t use it) and he expects everybody around him to cover the tab. A former inventory distribution specialist (translating the Asher-speak, he was a waiter at Chili’s), he’s still trying to find himself. Asher is both hilarious and so desperately in need of a smack upside the head; but maybe he’s a little too fragile for that.

Consider those three guys: Flavio, Renato and Asher. They’re all so well cast and brought to life with Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) at the helm, Half Brother is able to generate laughs and tug on the heartstrings while still pushing some buttons. It’s kind of a goofy mashup of Crocodile Dundee meets Due Date meets The Hangover, with a detour through Babel.

Culture Clash

At the heart of all this is Flavio’s flawed fatherhood. He viewed Asher as a lost cause and he never made it back home to Renato. And then the political bent of the story enters the picture. The U.S.-Mexico border, the treatment of immigrants, the border conditions. Those elements all play into Flavio’s failure to return to Mexico. It works as a dramatic component — but it’s also somewhat thwarted by Flavio’s own mantra: always look at things from a different perspective.

That mantra served Flavio well as he transformed an American company from manufacturing old-school transistor radios to remote-controlled model airplanes and drones. And it served Renato well as he built and grew his own business.

But, at the same time, the movie emphasizes only one perspective in regard to American life that’s a little jaundiced. Sure, plenty of Americans are pretty ignorant about the rest of the world; Americans need to travel more and get out of their ample comfort zone (a personal mantra of this review’s author). But, at the same time, patriotism has its place. What nation proudly strives to finish second? Who is inspired by mediocrity or a lack of ambition?

Then again, while the heartland is stereotyped as flag-waving (nothing wrong with that), Renato’s a little put off by Americans stereotyping Mexico as a country of ziplining and free-range goats.

So, while the bulk of Half Brothers is a good-hearted comedy-drama, there is this one piece that, if a little more balanced, could’ve really set the movie a cut above.